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Addiction Heroin Opiates Prescription Drugs Substance Abuse

The Suburban Rise of Heroin Use

Heroin use is on the rise.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the makers of Oxycontin changed their formula, presumably making it harder to abuse, something unforeseen happened: heroin use began to rise amongst white suburbanites. This is a significant shift from the historically urban prevalence of heroin use. It used to be that heroin was the drug of choice for city-dwelling, young, male minorities. However, the current path to heroin use is paved with prescription opioids. The reality is, addiction doesn’t have any real barriers; it has a broad reach and an even broader topography.

 

When 9,000 patients in treatment centers nationwide were surveyed, its findings showed “90 percent of heroin users were white men and women. Most were relatively young — their average age was 23. And three-quarters said they first started not with heroin but with prescription opioids like OxyContin.”

 

While RX opioids are still one of the more popular drugs of choice, the shift toward heroin was a direct result of cost and availability. For example, OxyContin can go for $80 a pill on the street, while a bag of heroin might be $10. An addict doesn’t care whether or not the chemical compound is safe or consistent: they care about the high.

 

In 2007, over 2,000 people died of heroin overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 200,000 went to ERs after overdosing in 2008.

 

According to this NY Times article, “from 2007 to 2012, the number of people who reported using heroin in the previous year grew to 669,000 from 373,000,” presenting a substantial increase in heroin use.

 

Experts are saying that the aggressive prescribing of opioids like OxyContin and Percocet in the last decade is part and parcel to what has caused the increase in heroin use in wealthier areas. These areas have more access to medical care and doctors willing to write prescriptions. As patients become addicted and the prescriptions dry up, addicts are hitting the street. What seems cheaper at first ends up being financially debilitating as the addiction progresses. That $10 bag becomes two bags, then three, then 10, and before you know it, that heroin addiction has bankrupted your family and destroyed your life.

 

In order to gain control of the increase in heroin use, physicians need to prescribe more cautiously, lessoning the quantity and frequency of prescriptions. And those addicted, be they teens or adults, need to get help and get into treatment. There’s no hope for moderation for an addict – complete abstinence is the only way.

 

Categories
Addiction Heroin Prevention

The Skinny on Heroin: Cheap, Accessible and Deadly

The media is calling Heroin the “silent assassin,”

Heroin syringe (Photo credit: Thomas Marthinsen)

and many are  saying there’s a Heroin epidemic, mostly because of the recent celebrity overdoses and increase in heroin deaths across the country.  The latest celebrity death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman seemed to really strike a nerve. Is it because he was clean for a long period of time, openly talking about his troubles with addiction? Or is it because he’s someone we as an audience want or need to respect because of his wide range of talent? It’s a loss, a great one, but it is more a reminder of the devastation drug use can cause.

 

The use of heroin is prime for a death sentence and its inexpensive procurement makes it an easier and more desirable go-to than drugs like Oxycontin, particularly if you are young, desperate, and broke. At the same time, for celebrities like Hoffman or Cory Monteith, familiarity may be the calling card.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Prescription opioid pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin can have effects similar to heroin when taken in doses or in ways other than prescribed, and they are currently among the most commonly abused drugs in the United States. Research now suggests that abuse of these drugs may open the door to heroin abuse.”

 

And according to a 2012 Monitoring the Future study (a NIDA funded survey of teens in grades 8, 10, and 12, only 0.05% of 8th graders, 0.6% of 10th graders and 12th graders reported using heroin at least once in the past year. The number of teens using heroin is down significantly to what it was in the 1990s. The main concern now is that teens addicted to prescription opiods like Oxycontin will eventually turn to heroin because of its low cost.

 

Concerned about your teen or young adult? Here are some signs to look for:

 

  • Extreme drowsiness: nodding off, acting sleepy, moving really slowly
  • Itching, scratching at face and arms
  • Nausea
  • Pupils very small, like pinpoints, even in dim light
  • Marks on the skin (if heroin is injected vs sniffed)

 

Talking to someone who has a drug problem isn’t always easy, in fact, it can be down right difficult. You may encounter denial, anger, frustration, sadness, regret, and you may face a litany of excuses. Regardless, encourage your friend or loved one to talk to a counselor or a teacher, or trusted adult. Be kind and encouraging and make sure you are also getting the support you need. Reaching out to a friend or loved one lost in the throes of their addiction can be overwhelming and deeply upsetting. Make sure you also have resources you need to decompress and ground yourself: a therapist, AlAnon, CoDA, or a space or practice that you can lean into to take care of yourself.

 

Check out NIDA for more information on heroin.

Help is just a phone call or email away. Contact us with any questions or concerns.

Categories
Addiction Heroin Opiates

OxyContin Use Down, Heroin Use On the Rise

When the manufacturers of OxyContin changed their formula in 2010 to lesson its potential for abuse, I don’t think they intended to drive addicts to use other drugs. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. As a result of OxyContin’s new formula being harder to snort or inject, addicts ultimately flocked to the streets. The unfortunate drug of choice: heroin—because it’s easier to obtain and cheaper than its pharmaceutical counterpart.

Dr. Theodore Cicero, professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry at Washington University, and the principal investigator for a three-year research study of OxyContin use noticed a significant drop in OxyContin use after its formula change.  In fact, “Respondents indicating OxyContin as their primary drug of abuse dropped from 35.6 percent at the start of the study to 12.8 percent now.”   Further, the number of subjects who stated they’d used OxyContin to get high at least once in the last 30 days “fell from 47.4 percent to 30 percent.” Unfortunately, the Washington University team found that their respondents’ use of heroin grew from 5 percent to 15 percent—these numbers nearly tripled during that same 30-day period!

Addicts and drug abusers had clearly moved to the streets, the suburbs, and to heroin. They have essentially migrated toward a drug that is easier to inject or snort, much like the old formulation of OxyContin.  Dr. Cicero compared drug abuse to a “large balloon.” He explains it thusly,  “You press in one area, and the volume doesn’t decrease, it just simply moves to another spot.” This analogy fits well here as we look at the decline in OxyContin use and the increase in heroin use. As Dr. Cicero’s analogy deftly points out, the Oxy problem hasn’t really been solved; it has just been diverted.

While OxyContin is regulated and easily identifiable, heroin is not. In a weird way, you know what you’re getting with Oxy. But let’s be honest, anytime we put something in our arm or in our noses in an effort to alter our mind and body, we are playing the part of lab rat. Heroin is a problem: it’s unpredictable from one source to the next – sometimes it’s nearly pure, increasing one’s potential for an overdose.

The bottom line is the overall increase in opioid use: this is troublesome and growing into an epidemic. While we can treat addicts when they’re ready, how can we prevent addiction or abuse in the first place? Let’s start the conversation before it becomes a problem, taking preventative measures during the early years of our children’s lives: that perfect time when they’re just starting to dip their toes in the burgeoning years of curious adolescence.