Heroin use among rural and suburban populations is on the rise, and prescription painkillers are…
How Prescription Drug-Abusing Teens Become Heroin Addicts
After marijuana, prescriptions are the most commonly abused drugs by American teenagers, and this habit is turning our youth into heroin addicts. Narcotic painkillers, potent drugs that bring relief to people with real and chronic pain, are the No. 1 choice of teens who abuse prescription drugs. However, restricted access and the increased cost of painkillers have turned teenagers into heroin addicts in record numbers.
How can these two things be related? One is a safe, controlled prescription medication and the other is a dangerous, highly addictive street drug, right? This false notion that narcotic painkillers are safe is what has gotten millions of people into trouble. No prescription is safe to abuse and many come with risks, even if taken as directed by a doctor. The risk associated with narcotic painkillers is particularly high because they are closely related to heroin.
Prescription narcotic painkillers are opioids and so is heroin. An opioid is any chemical that is either naturally found in the opium poppy or has been derived from one of these natural compounds. Heroin was first synthesized from natural opioids decades ago and even used as a medication for a short period of time. Today’s prescription opioids are less addictive and less powerful than heroin, but not by much. Someone who gets hooked on narcotic painkillers can easily transition to heroin.
Changing Face of Heroin Addiction
At one time, heroin addicts could mostly be found in the inner cities. Today, the face of a typical heroin addict has changed. The typical addict is now much younger and lives in the suburbs or rural areas. Many of today’s heroin addicts began as teenagers abusing prescription painkillers, according to studies. Abuse of prescription opioids peaked in the mid-2000s when doctors were generous with medications. Their intentions were largely good. Doctors felt they were moving toward better treatments for pain in order to help patients feel better.
The unintended consequence was a flooding of the market with drugs of abuse that were easy for teens to access. Teenagers get prescriptions from friends and family members. To make the matter worse, many young people wrongly assume that abusing prescriptions is low-risk. Once doctors and lawmakers caught on to the epidemic of pain pill abuse, they increased the restrictions. Again, this was well-intentioned, but the consequence was that these addicts often turned to heroin.
Imagine a teen hooked on prescription painkillers. He needs his fix or he will experience terrible withdrawal. His pills are harder to find now and they are much more expensive. He hears about a heroin dealer offering a hit for just a few dollars. It satisfies his need for opioids and he feels normal again. With easy access and a low price, naturally he will turn from medications to heroin. This is how the face of heroin abuse has shifted and why teenagers are suffering from heroin addiction in record numbers.
The consequences of teens moving from pills to injecting heroin are devastating and will only get worse with time. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs and most difficult to kick. It is also easy to accidentally overdose and die when using heroin. To turn the tide and save lives, teenagers need not only education and prevention efforts, but also available and effective treatment. For many, prevention is too late. They need easy access to care in order to have a future.