Heroin Addiction Rising Amid Pill Mill Crackdown

Almost as soon as Florida gained control of their rampant prescription drug addiction problem, a new yet similar problem has surfaced: heroin. Many are speculating that this correlates to the statewide crackdown on unscrupulous pain management clinics or “pill mills.” A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times highlighted the severity of the problem.[1]

Officials and prevention advocates are just as alarmed now as they were during the height of the painkiller epidemic, and for good reason. Heroin delivers many of the same effects as prescription painkillers, but can actually be far more dangerous. In addition to heroin\’s deadly and destructive impact on the individual user, the needles associated with the injection process can lead to widespread public health crises, such as HIV and hepatitis C.

According to the CDC, while painkiller overdose deaths have declined from 5.4 per 100,000 Americans in 2010 to 5.1 per 100,000 in 2013, heroin overdose deaths have increased from 0.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 2.7 per 100,000 in 2013 – including an average increase in deaths of 37 percent per year, since 2010. The death toll in the current heroin crisis is dwarfed by the number of deaths at the peak of the prescription drug epidemic.[2]

Heroin: A Cheaper High

Florida\’s prosecution of illegal painkiller use has drastically cut supplies of pills and created a void filled by heroin, a cheaper and more accessible alternative. The prices of pills in Florida has escalated to about $20 to $80 per pill or higher. The piece mentions that Mexican drug cartels have taken advantage of this scarcity and have flooded the market with heroin for about $15 per dose. The percentage of heroin abuse in Florida is on course to be at its highest since the 1980s.[3]

Thanks to improved tracking and regulations on prescription pills, in addition to new formulations to make them harder to abuse, individuals struggling with opioid addictions were left with three choices:

  1. Rehab to break addiction and learn to manage pain
  2. Find a new source for prescription pills
  3. Turn to heroin because of access and affordability

It appears that many have opted for the latter, the easiest of the three decisions, creating a series of unintended consequences from the pill mill crackdowns. While the heroin problem is not as out of control as the pill abuse problem was, several state and federal U.S. health officials feel the upward trend is troubling and may only be the beginning.

Heroin public health emergencies have been called in Florida, Maryland, Vermont, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and in the Great Lakes region.

A Potentially Deadly Tradeoff

One of the biggest differences between abusing painkillers and abusing heroin is the unscrupulous and haphazard way in which heroin is created, distributed and used. While painkillers are highly addictive and dangerous, they are manufactured in government-regulated facilities. There are no mystery ingredients in any prescription drugs, and people can trust that pills were not cut or diluted with any other toxic substances.

Heroin, on the other hand, is a street drug that can be made of any number of toxic chemicals. The potency of each dose varies, as do the ingredients. Heroin is bought from drug cartels, while prescription drugs are purchased from pharmacies. All of this makes it much easier for a person to overdose on heroin.

Even further, with injection being the most preferred way to take heroin, there\’s a greater chance for users to contract deadly diseases with contaminated needles. Law enforcement officials also expect street crime to rise with the increases in heroin use, abuse and overdoses.

A New Kind of Heroin Epidemic

Widespread heroin addiction in the U.S. made its presence felt for the first time during the 1970\’s and 1980\’s, when it was destroying inner cities and low income neighborhoods. Today\’s growing problem has left the urban streets and has entered suburban homes. The newest heroin addicts often begin getting high on drugs found in their medicine cabinets before upgrading to heroin.

Now, instead of having to find new places to find prescription drugs, teens and young adults are able to order doses of heroin from street dealers or even on the Internet and have it delivered to their front door. The immediate availability coupled with the relative affordability makes heroin the drug of choice for many people struggling with opioid addictions.

Heroin public health emergencies have been called in Florida, Maryland, Vermont, Kentucky, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and in the Great Lakes region.

This shift has turned heroin abuse into more of a middle-class and upper-class problem than it has ever been. More and more people, seemingly living lives of luxury and privilege, are abusing heroin, which has raised the level of concern around the issue. If wealthy celebrities like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Cory Monteith can fall prey to heroin addiction – when it seems they have everything going for them – then it can happen to anyone.[4]

Help Available for Heroin Addiction

One of the many ways that states are fighting back against the worsening heroin addiction problem is by recommending treatment over punishment. When drug abusers and addicts are incarcerated, they are not actually being rehabbed and are highly likely to continue abusing drugs upon being released from jail. This is something that has been proven through America\’s failed war on drugs, during which drug use and abuse have actually increased.

A complete rehabilitation, addressing the mental, physical and spiritual damage caused by addiction, is the most reliable way to combat addiction. Addiction is a progressive disease, not a purposeful choice. It must be treated like any other disease, or the problem will only worsen. The sooner a person begins receiving treatment, the better their chances at a successful turnaround.

Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches has been helping patients defeat addictions to heroin and many other drugs for nearly 20 years. Our combination of experience, expertise and innovative therapies is unmatched in the industry. If you or a loved one is ready to fight back against addiction, contact one of our representatives today.