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Can Prescription Drug Abuse Lead to Heroin Addiction?

May 28, 2014 Addiction Treatment

Until recently it would be uncommon to associate heroin addiction with abuse of or dependence on prescription medication, but the CDC has released a report regarding the risks and connections between the two. Many who abuse prescription painkillers perceive heroin as an alleyway drug of desperation, but the active ingredient in the most commonly abused prescription pain medications is the same as heroin. Opiates block the brain’s ability to perceive pain, activate neurotransmitter receptors in the brain’s reward system and release dopamine, producing a sense of pleasure or ease that slows down reaction time and memory affecting the way you act and make decisions.

Prescription medication abuse becoming more common has resulted in the overdose death rates having more than tripled since 1990. An opiate overdose can be challenging to recognize, and are most commonly accidental. As an individual’s tolerance increases, their need to take more of the drug to relieve pain also increases, but the body’s ability to manage the drug remain the same. If overdosing from opiates, a person may experience some confusion and physical discomfort and their breathing and heart rate can slow down enough that breathing stops, resulting in a fatal overdose.

One addict shared his experiences with NBC News:

“The first time I took a Percocet I was in high school. I was just at a party with a bunch of people, I got offered one, and that was it…I didn’t decide one day that I wanted to be addicted to pain killers. It just happened.”

With painkillers often prescribed by doctors and dentists after injury or surgery, they’re readily available in the medicine cabinets of most homes. Hydrocodone and oxycodone, commonly known as Vicodin and OxyContin, are being used recreationally as well as abused by patients who find themselves frustrated with chronic pain. For some individuals, prescription painkillers can be an introduction to an opiate high which offers immediate relief and satisfaction.

In many places heroin is much cheaper than prescription opiates and reports show that prescription pain medication abusers becoming susceptible to heroin addiction is increasing at an alarming rate. It’s essential for people who struggle with opioid abuse to be made aware of the risks and availability of treatment. The Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs to medically treat opioid withdrawal, and when used in conjunction with counseling and rehabilitation, one can successfully pull free of the grip of addiction.

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