As Availability of Opioids Declines, Demand for Heroin Has Increased
The nation is taking action to combat the problem of prescription drug abuse. Among the several strategies being used are Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, electronic databases which make it easy for prescribers to check and see if a patient has been collecting prescriptions around town. It also helps law enforcement know which areas in a state are saturated with drugs. The idea has been to make it harder for abusers to get their hands on prescription drugs, mainly opioid painkillers. But drying up the source doesn’t solve the problem of addiction.
Users often find another substance to abuse. With opioids, the replacement substance tends to be heroin. Heroin hails from the same drug family as opioids, but it’s cheaper and much easier to get. In New York officials say that as many as 50 percent of current heroin users started out using prescription drugs.
Part of what drove the opioid craze was the misperception that the drugs were safe since a doctor prescribes them. However, it’s even more of a roll of the dice to buy drugs on the street. Without FDA regulation or pharmacy oversight a buyer will never know exactly what they are buying in terms of purity.
The same size bag purchased on the street may contain one amount of heroin one time and a much greater amount the next time. This means that overdose is a very real danger. Add to that the fact that many times heroin is being laced with fentanyl, a heroin analog that can depress respiratory function, and users really just don’t know what it is they are taking.
In New York City alone there were 730 overdose deaths in 2012, which was twice the number of homicides that year, and half of those overdoses were heroin or opioid related. But this isn’t just a Big City problem. Heroin is showing up all across the country in large cities and small towns. FBI Director James Comey recently visited 25 field offices and said increasing heroin reports are widespread.
The 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment ranked heroin as the nation’s number two drug risk, with methamphetamine number one. Police and DEA activity also reveal that there is more heroin on the streets, with 2009-2013 seizures of heroin jumped 87 percent. But not only were there more seizures, the amounts being seized also skyrocketed. During the same time span the amount of heroin seized went up 81 percent. One police chief said that a single seizure of 10,000 bags of heroin was not uncommon.
Thus, while we can celebrate the reduced access to prescription painkillers it’s important that Americans be aware that drug users migrate to another drug. And this time it’s heroin.