Researchers at New York University reported that about 75% of high school heroin users started off using prescription painkillers first. The fact that so many children have access to prescription opioids illustrates the need for more effective policies regarding the availability of these drugs, as over prescribing continues to be a problem.
While there have been some changes over the years when it comes to prescribing practices of opiates, the drugs are still easy for people of all ages to obtain. This is likely due to the fact that many doctors are still in the dark when it comes to being able to spot signs of addiction and many people are able to sell their prescriptions for much more on the street. It is also known that students often get prescription drugs by taking them from another family member or getting them from a classmate who has done so.
Just like heroin, prescription painkillers are extremely addictive. For some people, it may only take one week of continued use of opiates to become dependent on them. They start to experience withdrawal effects if they stop taking them, and eventually their tolerance builds, requiring them to take more just to achieve the same effect.
Abstaining from prescription pills is equally as hard as it is to quit heroin. Withdrawal symptoms from both types of drugs are intense and long lasting. When the pills become too hard to find or afford, addicts often move to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain.
The University sent out a release regarding the study, which appeared in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. “As frequency of lifetime opioid use increased, so too did the odds for reporting heroin use, with over three-quarters of heroin users reporting lifetime nonmedical opioid use. More frequent and more recent nonmedical opioid use was associated with increased odds for reporting heroin use,” explained Dr. Joseph J. Palamar, an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.
To emphasize the danger of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse, the public was also warned that heroin overdose deaths had almost tripled since 2010. Deaths from prescription painkillers have also quadrupled since 1999. In addition to getting a wrangle on the prescribing practices of these drugs, it is also clear that much more effort be placed behind providing effective education and prevention programs.