3 Links between Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin

Studies show several links between prescription opioid abuse and heroin and why these incidences have been on the rise.

Primary: Prescription Opioid Abuse

Secondary: Heroin


Prescription opioids act as pain blockers, in their most benign usage. They are valuable for injured athletes, the ill or everyday people suffering from significant pain. However, the dark side of prescription opioid abuse and its undeniable link to heroin needs to be explored. Not all users of opioids become addicted, or are even at risk. Still, it’s one of several factors of the growing heroin epidemic in America. By analyzing the 3 links below, we can make a few connections between prescription opioid abuse and heroin.


  1. Addiction

Opioids have a high potential for abuse due to their triggering of the brain’s reward system. Heroin is remarkably similar to many prescription pain killers on the pharmaceutical market. For example, codeine reproduces the effects of naturally occurring endorphins in the brain. With codeine, endorphins combine with opioid receptors and cause a euphoric state in the user. Over time and quite easily, the user’s tolerance skyrockets, demanding a higher dose in order to achieve the same feeling. According to the CDC, those addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin. That’s a standout statistic, but it’s important to note that most prescription opioid users don’t fall into the cycle of abuse. Rather, the ones that do have a good chance of subsequently switching to heroin.


  1. Accessibility

Those addicted to prescription opioids may seek the same effects through heroin due to ease of access. Opioid prescriptions have risen dramatically in the last four decades. Heroin is an illegal product, and thus obtaining it involves risk and uncertainty. However, this also means that users don’t have to obtain a prescription. In fact, in a 2014 survey of opioid abuse patients, we see that easy accessibility to heroin was one of the main factors of use. On the same side of the coin, heroin is readily attainable for users who have networks of friends and other addicts to tap into when their prescriptions run dry.


  1. Cost

Money is a frequent roadblock for addicts looking to continue with their habit. On average, prescription pain killers cost more than street heroin. Thus, for a user looking to get high as quickly as possible (also suffering from withdrawal), switching to heroin is a fast and obvious decision. In addition, lower costs coupled with easy accessibility often makes heroin a more efficient option for former prescription opioid abusers.


From increased trafficking to accessibility, a lot of things attribute to higher heroin usage in America. It’s a combination of several factors, backed by real data and obtained from decades of study. One of those factors, as seen above, is the link between prescription opioid abuse and later heroin addiction. The explosion of opioid prescriptions in the United States correlates to higher heroin usage. While the two are not always mutually exclusive, in this aspect they are linked.

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