According to a drug use survey by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), about seven million U.S. residents from the ages of twelve and older have misused prescription painkillers at some point in their lives. Researchers also estimate that about 5,500 people misuse prescription painkillers for the first time every day.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that:
Ninety-one U.S. residents die every day as a result of opioid overdoses.
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
More people go to emergency rooms for medication misuse problems than for problems relating to the use of street drugs.
How Do Opiates Work?
Heroin is a type of opiate, a type of drug also known as an opioid. Opiates bind to particular receptors in the brain and cause a sudden and rapid charge of the chemical dopamine to flood the brain. This surge of dopamine causes intense feelings of euphoria and highness. Abuse of heroin in the suburbs can lead to uncontrollable and obsessive cravings for opiates to keep producing those feelings.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an opiate synthesized from the drug morphine. It typically comes in the form of brown or white powder. This opiate can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Each route is capable of delivering a quick response that can easily cause addiction when people abuse heroin in the suburbs.
Can Prescription Pain Medication Become Addictive Like Heroin?
Prescription painkillers are very similar to heroin. Heroin is an opiate/opioid and many prescription pain meds are also opiates/opioids.
The active opiate or opioid molecules present in pain medications and heroin usually work by attaching themselves to your brain’s opioid receptors. This gives you relief from pain while at the same time triggering the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine.
While you may feel high and stimulated while using the drugs, opioids are actually closer to depressants, substances that depress functions of the body. Overdoses from using heroin in the suburbs can lead to:
Impaired heart rate
What Are Some Withdrawal Symptoms?
Whether you are addicted to prescription painkillers or from using heroin in the suburbs, abrupt quitting the drugs can cause intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Low dosage pain medications can cause mild and tolerable withdrawal symptoms. However, as your body builds tolerance and you become addicted, you might feel compelled to increase the dosage and the frequency at which you take the drugs. Consequently, the withdrawal symptoms from using prescription painkillers or heroin in the suburbs can be more severe and might include:
Nausea and vomiting
Heart rate increases
What Does It Mean to Get High?
The psychological and physical effects of using pain medication and heroin in the suburbs are similar. If you are high on either prescription painkillers or heroin, you might experience:
Diminished (or no) pain
Who Is Abusing Prescription Pain Medication?
Addiction does not discriminate. While some people specifically seek prescription drugs for the purpose of getting high, many become addicted without realizing it. Doctors often prescribe pain medication following surgery, accidents, or serious injuries or to manage chronic pain.
Addiction from using heroin in the suburbs impacts individuals in every age group, gender, cultural background, and income level.
In 2015, 276,000 adolescents used pain medication to get high, reports the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). The same report notes that 122,000 of those adolescents who used prescription pain meds for nonmedical purposes struggled with prescription pain medication addiction.
How Do People Shift from Using Prescription Pain Medications to Heroin?
Four out of every five people who are addicted to heroin in the suburbs began by misusing their prescribed pain meds. The progression from using prescription pain medications to using heroin in the suburbs commonly follows the following path, in which people
Use prescription pain medications for genuine pain.
Discover they like the pleasurable effects they feel after taking the medications.
Exceed the prescribed doses after using the drugs for a few weeks, which gradually causes dependence.
Lose access to the prescription pain medications when their prescriptions run out, prompting them to resort to illegal pain meds.
Switch to using heroin in the suburbs, as heroin is often more accessible and cheaper.
Using opiate medication for prolonged periods of time will build up your tolerance to the drugs. Tolerance occurs when you require a higher dosage of a substance to achieve the same high you once felt by using a lower dosage.
Over time, you can become physically dependent on the drug. Tolerance and dependence can happen to anyone.
In addition, some individuals might be genetically predisposed to drug addiction. Since opiate abuse can cause significant physical and mental changes, people might feel as if the only way they can survive is by using heroin in the suburbs.
What Are Some Statistics about the Growing Heroin Epidemic?
From 1994 to 2007, the number of prescriptions for pain medications nearly doubled, according to the ASAM. Although many of the widely prescribed opiates like Vicodin and Percocet were developed as early as the 1970s, the drugs were closely monitored and prescribed sparingly for fear of causing addiction. These fears were not unfounded, as evidenced by the opioid epidemic that America is currently facing.
By 2001, the medical field considered treatment for pain as a priority to keep patients from suffering. It was then that doctors began prescribing opiates after minor accidents and surgeries. The assumption was that the patients would be on the pain medications until their pain subsided and their doctors would then wean the patients off the pain medications.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that the main reasons for opiate prescriptions in 2007-2012 were
Rehabilitation/physical purposes – 36%
Pain management post-surgery – 37%
Pain management – 49%
A review of the standards of pain assessment by The Joint Commission led in part to the overprescription of pain medication by doctors. It also contributed to the formation of pain management clinics commonly known as pill mills.
In pill mills, doctors prescribed high doses of opiates to people struggling with addictions. The pill mills often accepted cash-only payments while shying away from working with health insurance. This made tracking drug prescriptions difficult.
Another factor contributing to the abuse of heroin in the suburbs is that it is easier to use heroin in different ways. Prescription opioid manufacturers are making it harder for users to crush prescription pain pills in order to inject or snort the drugs. But, users who buy heroin as powder often find that form of drugs easier to snort or dissolve for use in injecting.
In 2013, that were about 250,000 reported opiate prescriptions. As recently as 2017, almost 1,000 people in the United States visited emergency rooms daily because of the inappropriate use of prescription opiates.
Many people struggling with addiction to heroin in the suburbs reported that they intentionally turned to heroin when it became impossible to obtain prescription pain meds.
Since many of the addictions from using heroin in the suburbs started with prescription pain medications, the demographics of heroin use are changing:
More people living in suburban areas are struggling with addiction to prescription opioids and heroin in 2017 compared to 1999.
The highest overdose rate is among individuals between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four.
In 2017, prescription narcotics and heroin contributed to about ninety-one opiate overdose deaths.
75 percent of people addicted to heroin in the suburbs used prescription pain medication first.
The 75 percent of people who first used prescription drugs before moving to heroin did so not because they were looking for a longer and stronger high. They turned to using heroin because they were looking for a drug that was less expensive and more readily available.
Prescription pills are not as easily accessible as they once were. There are more stringent measures and tougher regulations that make it more difficult to obtain prescription painkillers. Such measures and regulations also track the manufacture, storage, and sales of such drugs.
Why Has Suburban Heroin Abuse Become Worse?
While opiate addiction is a longstanding problem, the current crisis started in the early 1980s. During this time, articles in highly influential and diverse journals tried to calm doctors’ fears about prescribing opiates as pain medication. Using these articles, the pharmaceutical industry began aggressively marketing the opioid pain meds such as OxyContin (oxycodone). This aggressive marketing, combined with a new focus on reducing the pain and suffering of patients, sharply fueled the availability and use of pharmaceutical pain narcotics. Pill mills also helped flood the market with prescription opiates.
At the same time, there were major changes in the drug market for heroin. The price of heroin in the suburbs plummeted. Newly formed decentralized distribution networks began selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals and heroin in new areas such as suburban areas (the suburbs). Much to the pleasure of suppliers, wherever they went in the suburbans, they found ready and willing customers.
Are There Measures to Fight Drug Sales and Abuse?
Federal, state, and local authorities are taking measures to combat the illegal sale or use of prescription drugs:
State governments and law enforcement agencies have cracked down on illegal pill mills.
State legislatures have introduced measures regulating pain clinics as well as the number of opiates prescribed by doctors, stored by pharmacies, and used by patients.
The U.S. federal government moved the opioid drugs oxycodone and hydrocodone from Schedule III to Schedule II to track prescriptions of these drugs more efficiently.
Governments across the United States have placed tighter surveillance and control on opiate/opioid prescriptions.
Police departments and local entities are using drugs such as naloxone to reverse or block the effects of opiate overdoses.
The U.S. Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. This act allocated $1 billion for opioid abuse prevention and treatment programs.
U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions announced the establishment of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit in 2017, a program aimed at prosecuting health care fraud related to opioid abuse.
How Do People Find Help for Addiction?
If you or a loved one are suffering from prescription pain medication or heroin addiction, there is help available.
Because opioids are highly addictive in nature and have intense withdrawal symptoms, SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), has recommended the use of MAT, medication-assisted treatment. Such treatment uses medications and other supervised help to help patients detox from harmful substances.
MAT uses a tapering regimen that involves gradually reducing the frequency and dosage of opioids. The goal of the tapering process is to wean your body completely off the opioids while at the same time managing the severe withdrawal symptoms.
Once you complete the detox program of the treatment regimen, MAT uses different behavioral therapy techniques to treat addictions. Some of the behavioral therapies are:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — It targets the behaviors and thoughts that led to using drugs and maintaining drug use. Using cognitive behavioral therapy, therapists and clients work to identify triggers and develop behavioral modifications to prevent potential relapses.
Supportive therapy — It aims to give clients emotional support, which can prevent loneliness, stress, and other factors that can trigger substance abuse.
Talk therapy and family therapy — It involves clients’ families in the therapeutic process. This can help clients address family dynamics that might be triggering the use of drugs.
Group therapy — It allows clients to meet with other clients who might be experiencing similar addiction-related problems, which can provide emotional support.
You can access these therapeutic approaches at many outpatient or inpatient addiction treatment centers. Inpatient treatment can take place in a residential rehab center or a hospital.
While both inpatient and outpatient programs provide medical assistance and care, inpatient programs will allow you to focus solely on your recovery without distractions and separate you from physical triggers. Residential treatment facilities also minimize the likelihood of relapsing throughout your stay at the facility.
While in an outpatient program, you can leave the treatment facility at the end of each treatment session. Outpatient programs give you the flexibility of attending to other personal or work-related matters. If you need less intensive care or are not in a position to take work leave, take school leave, or take a break from family responsibilities, then you might want to consider nonresidential (outpatient) therapy.
Before choosing an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, it is a good idea to go for professional assessment and evaluation. Based on this assessment and evaluation, treatment specialists can help you find the ideal treatment program for you.
The duration of treatment varies from one person to another. It depends on a number of factors, including:
The specific services available at the rehab center
The extent of your addiction
The length of your addiction
The existence of other mental or physical conditions
When choosing an inpatient program, you might want to consider:
Services – Ensure that your rehab center of choice is able to cater to all your needs.
Cost – Learn the cost of treatment before choosing a treatment facility. Then, check if you can afford to pay. Many insurance companies cover partial outpatient or inpatient treatment. If you cannot raise enough funds yourself, consider taking out a personal loan, borrowing from relatives or friends, or applying for a grants and scholarship to pay for your treatment.
Distance – If your family and friends are an integral part of your treatment and they do not threaten your recovery, an inpatient program that is close to home might be a good option for you. If, on the other hand, your relatives or friends could hamper your recovery process (by encouraging you to abuse heroin in the suburbs, for example), then you might want to consider traveling to other locations to seek treatment.
People abuse heroin and prescription medications in the suburbs and everywhere else. Fortunately, there is also widespread help for this condition.