Blog · Apr 09, 2015
Prescription opioid abuse has risen significantly over the past decade, leading the federal government and many state governments to instate more stringent laws to reduce access to these drugs. These efforts have been successful in both reducing illicit availability and driving up costs. As a result, addicted users turn to heroin, which is often cheaper and easier to obtain. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, heroin use among young adults aged 18-25 has almost doubled in a recent ten year period. Both heroin and prescription opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain, producing an effect that diminishes perceptions of pain. These drugs also engage with the area of the brain that involves reward, which could be one cause for addiction.
The biological transition from opioids to heroin is not much of a leap, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration “has found more heroin laced with fentanyl, which is typically used to treat severe pain in people with chronic illness.” Heroin suppliers use this additive because it increases the heroin’s potency in an effort to keep street prices down and consumption up. However, heroin laced with fentanyl is that much more lethal.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the DEA administrator reports that drug “incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety.” Indeed, it poses a significant risk to law enforcement officials who come into contact with it, because it can be unintentionally inhaled or absorbed through the skin during drug busts.
Fentanyl is one of many prescription opioids that are abused, maybe particularly so because it can be prescribed in the form of a patch. Users cut up the patches and place them under the tongue for a quicker and more intense effect.
With the rise in prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, we are reminded of the crucial need to prevent the misuse of prescription medications. Drug manufacturers are working to develop analgesics that are not opioids and ultimately less likely to be abused. Additionally, as prevention educators, we can educate children as to the safe use of prescription medications and correct children’s misperceptions of harm surrounding the inappropriate use of prescription medications. Children who learn from an early age to take a responsible approach toward the safe use and handling of prescription medications are less likely to abuse them, and so they are less likely to develop a dependence on opioids that could ultimately lead to a possible heroin addiction. Drug awareness education coupled with the tools children need to make responsible decisions and resist negative peer influence, all equip children with the resiliency they need to stay true to a drug-free life.