Kentucky’s law-enforcement agences, policymakers and public-health advocates have taken serious measures to curb the state’s rampant prescription drug abuse problem, and recent state and national news stories suggest that the reduced supply of these painkillers, at least the ones in a non-crushable form, has driven pill abusers to heroin. Now there’s research to support this theory.
Non-medical use of prescription pain medication may raise the risk of heroin use, says a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA says people aged 12 to 49 who previously used prescription pain relievers non-medically were 19 times more likely than non-abusers to have started using heroin over the past year.
Proving the connection, the converse was true: Almost 80 percent of those who started to use heroin over the past year had abused prescription pain relievers. These findings are part of a larger effort to identify some risk factors of heroin use, and also to understand the “dependence and initiation that have occurred in the past few years,” says
a SAMHSA news release.
Heroin use, which had already become a problem in Northern and Central Kentucky, has been spreading to the Southern and Eastern Kentucky. The drug is becoming
more popular throughout the state and nation because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription painkillers, specifically opioid medications.
The number of U.S. heroin users has increased by about 60 percent from 2007 to 2011, says the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And while some can argue for the benefits of prescription medication, that same risk-benefit analysis doesn’t apply to heroin, which has only risk.
The SAMHSA report offers another risk of prescription drugs: “Prescription pain relievers when used properly for their intended purpose can be of enormous benefit to patients, but their nonmedical use can lead to addiction, serious physical harm and even death,” said Dr. Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “This report shows that it can also greatly increase an individual’s risk of turning to heroin use – thus adding a new dimension of potential harm.”