The amount of people who are addicted to prescription painkillers continues to grow, with an estimated 2.1 million people currently misusing opioids in the United States. And for many, the transition from prescription drug misuse to heroin addiction is an easy one.
Studies have shown that addicted individuals amongst the younger set commonly begin misusing prescription drugs after they have discovered them in their medicine cabinets prescribed to someone else in their household — usually a parent.
Another way individuals commonly become addicted to prescription drugs is by taking them for pain management for an injury or ailment. This way of developing an addiction is especially common among seniors.
Once an individual has been misusing opioid pills for a significant amount of time, they begin to build up an immunity to its effects. As a result, individuals resort to seeking out other means for experiencing the original feelings or sense of “euphoria.” And once an individual runs out of pills or loses access to them, the typical next step is to illegally begin buying pills. However, that can quickly become expensive. According to The Conversation, just one 80mg OxyContin pill can cost between $60 and $100 on the street, compared to $45-$60 for a single purchase of multiple doses of heroin.
Heroin — an opioid synthesized from morphine but even more addictive and highly dangerous – offers a bigger high than some painkillers, depending on how it’s ingested and its purity level.
The unfortunate segue from pill addiction to heroin addiction has led to an epidemic-level death toll. In 2014 alone, drug overdoses became the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with 47,055 reported cases. Since the release of these startling statistics, law enforcement officials across the nation have stepped up and changed their approach to fighting drug addiction. Some cities now offer addiction treatment instead of jail time when an individual is picked up on drug charges while others are reaching out to users whose names were acquired from confiscated customer lists of drug dealers.
In helping to prevent the death toll from rising, it is also important for individuals to begin safeguarding themselves and their loved ones from prescription drugs right at home. After finishing treatment with prescription pills, individuals must remember to safely discard any unused portions of them that they may have. This can be done by dropping leftover medication at a take-back program or a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration authorized collector. If an individual doesn’t have one in their area, they can safely dispose of them at home by mixing the uncrushed pills with dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds before placing in a sealed plastic bag and tossing in the trash.
These simple efforts taken by individuals and by law enforcement will undoubtedly help to disrupt the all-too-common path from painkillers and heroin to end this deadly epidemic.