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How Prescription Drug Use Turns into Heroin Addiction


For many prescription drug abusers, the transition from painkillers to heroin is inevitable. Because the government has cracked down on pain clinics and prescription availability, many users are turning to the readily available heroin to fill their needs. Pills are now harder to obtain, and getting very expensive. Because heroin is cheap, drug dealers are suggesting this alternative to addicts all across the United States.

How it All Began

Florida was the crucible of the opioid epidemic that is gripping the United States. The interstate from the middle east and northern American states to Florida earned the name the “Oxy Express”, because of Florida’s liberal access to the powerful synthetic opioid painkiller, OxyContin. After Florida spent years changing its reputation by driving out the “pill mills,” state officials noticed a new trend they were not expecting. When addicts could no longer obtain prescription opioids, they turned to heroin.

As heroin deaths in America have more than tripled nationwide since the year 2010, experts report that Florida’s efforts to contain the epidemic only made the heroin epidemic worse. Florida’s problems began after medical authorities started paying more attention to doctors who liberally doled out prescription opioids. Within a few years, hundreds of pain clinics opened up in Florida, dispensing pills to people all over the U.S. When pill mills closed, deaths from oxycodone in Florida dropped almost 70% from 2010 to 2015.

Heroin Use Brings Many New Problems

Because the limited availability for prescription opioids, those already addicted turned to heroin, a much cheaper alternative. Heroin flooded in from Mexico, causing heroin deaths in Florida to double in 2014. Doctors started reporting an increase in the number of infants born addicted to heroin, and Florida leads the U.S. in new HIV infections, caused by needle sharing.

According to the American Medical Association of Psychiatry, a notable shift was seen with greater heroin use by white people from upper middle class and affluent backgrounds. Addicts moved on to heroin because the price of oxycodone was more expensive than the price per an ounce of gold. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in 2015 regarding the alarming increase of heroin overdoses.

Statistics on Heroin Use and Abuse

Heroin use has more than doubled among adults ages 18-25 during the last 10 years. More than 90% of people who used heroin also used another drug, and 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription painkillers. Heroin use has increased among all age groups, both sexes, and all income levels. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, with more than 8,200 people dying in 2013 alone.

The highest rate of drug overdose death in the U.S. in 2015 was for the state of West Virginia. This state has 32.4 deaths from overdose per 100,000 inhabitants, according to statistics. The number of deaths reached 47,000 in 2014, or the equivalent of 125 Americans each day. The death rate from drug overdoses is climbing at a faster pace than any other causes of death.

People addicted to prescription opioid medications (oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine) are 40 times more likely to become addicted to or abuse heroin. Because heroin is an opioid, and it is cheaper than prescription drugs, many addicts turn to it as a substitute when money or access are factors.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Today’s Heroin Epidemic. Retrieved from:

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