High-Functioning Drug Users Shift to Heroin
Leading Addiction Specialist Cites Lower Street Price, Ease of Access and Use
Dr. Arnold Washton, Co-Founder, Compass Health Group, says high-functioning individuals who have been addicted to prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet are now turning to heroin as a way to get that same “high” as they did with pills. Dr. Washton says heroin is not only easier to obtain these days than prescription narcotics, but it is less expensive and its effects are felt more quickly, since it is usually inhaled through the nostrils rather than swallowed.
A recent study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 9.1% of full-time workers surveyed said they used illicit drugs within a one-month span. In 2013, there were 169,000 people aged 12 or older who used heroin for the first time in a 12-month period. This is higher than figures from 2006 when only 90,000 tried heroin for the first time over the past year. The survey also found that 436,000 people in 2013 tried OxyContin for the first time in 12 months; although the number is greater than those who tried heroin, the numbers have leveled off since 2006.
Since oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and other painkiller (narcotic) medications are classified as controlled substances, they cannot be purchased over the counter, but only when prescribed by a medical professional authorized to prescribe such medications. According to the national survey, more than half received the pills from a friend or relative; over 80% of those friends and relatives obtained the drugs from a doctor.
Studies have shown that, although heroin is now much more potent than it was in the 1990s, it is also less expensive; it costs approximately $5 on the street for a small “bag” of heroin, compared to $80 for an 80-milligram dose on the street. In fact, while OxyContin abuse fell 17% between mid-2009 and early 2012, heroin abuse more than doubled during that same time period, according to a research study published by The New England Journal of Medicine. Data also shows that 66% of OxyContin users switched to heroin, the reason being that OxyContin reformulated the medication so it would be more difficult to crush and snort it.
“In addition to the high street cost of prescription painkillers, many OxyContin users have turned to heroin because it is easier to snort, giving them the feeling they want in less time,” Dr. Washton said. “It is very atypical for business executives and professionals — the types of people that Compass Health Group treats — to be using heroin, the quintessential ‘street’ drug. Nearly all of these patients are snorting the drug, but some do switch to injecting it as they build up tolerance and snorting no longer produces the desired effect.”
Dr. Washton encourages anyone who is currently addicted to opioid drugs to seek professional help from an addiction specialist. “Drug abuse greatly affects not only the life of the person who is addicted, but the lives of those around the addicted person,” he said. “Addiction is a treatable illness and we now have several new and more effective medications to help people addicted to opioids get off these drugs with minimal discomfort and behavioral counseling to help them stay off.”