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Prescription Drug Abuse and the Road to Heroin


By: Carl Scroggins, CADC, QHEIC, EMT
Program Supervisor
Gateway Chicago West

Prescription Drug Abuse and the Road to HeroinPrescription drug abuse is a growing trend. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) found that, following marijuana and alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drugs have become the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.

The process of becoming dependent on prescription drugs can begin easily and often, innocently. "Sometimes, people don't finish their medication and might give it away to others who need it, or the person's children or other family members may find it," explains Carl Scroggins, Overdose Prevention Programs Supervisor at Gateway.

According to the NIH, these drugs are often perceived as safer than illicit drugs but, when abused, pose serious health risks including overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that more people die from prescription opioid overdose than all other drugs combined.

Link to Heroin

Heroin and Rx Drug Abuse Is On The Rise

Research now shows addiction to prescription opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin may open the door to heroin abuse. Making the transition from one to the other is frequently a matter of economics and accessibility: The cost of prescription pills is $20 to $60, while the easier to access heroin sells for $3 to $10 a bag.

In the past five years, heroin use has increased by 75 percent, according to SAMHSA. No longer a predominantly urban issue, its use has mushroomed in the suburbs, with the greatest increases seen in young adults aged 18 to 25. Also rising, is the number of heroin overdoses.

"Opioid overdose kills thousands of Americans every year," Carl stated. "Many of those deaths might have been prevented by an inexpensive drug called Naloxone (Narcan®)." Administered in hospital emergency rooms and at all Gateway locations, Naloxone can reverse the effect of opioids. Illinois is one of several states that allows the drug to be prescribed to family members and other third parties, which can buy precious time before EMT personnel arrives.

Drug Abuse Treatment

Withdrawal from opiates is powerful, and can be medically managed by drugs like Suboxone® or others. Gateway's integrated approach to treating opioid addiction includes medication assisted therapy and counseling.

Think someone you know might be using heroin? Learn more about the Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use >

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