Today, too many families and communities are being touched by the silent epidemic of heroin-related overdoses, as many originate from a prescription for an opioid medication.
In Connecticut alone, there were over 300 heroin-related deaths in 2014, according to the state medical examiner’s records.
“Heroin is derived from morphine. At first, one feels euphoria or they feel almost numb, but it all fades away very quickly. That is when they realize the more they need to feel that same high,” says Mariel McDonnell, a pharmacist at CVS in Danbury.
Now, it is popular among users to mix heroin with other potent drugs, like fentanyl.
From 2002 to 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, cited the Center for Disease Control.
In order to stop emergency room visits due to drug overdoses, like with heroin, police departments and EMT programs are considering training their officers and students to use Narcan, an opiate antidote. Many EMTs now carry overdose kits with them as well.
“We are not trained, but there is training in small portions at this time,” says Lieutenant Vencluaskas of the Torrington Police Department.
A big part of the heroin epidemic stems from prescription (opioid) painkillers. They are usually used for moderate to severe pain after a surgery or injury, or to manage pain with cancer or at end of life. They are also prescribed for back pain and osteoarthritis.
However, it only takes one prescription to become dependent on a drug.
People are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin if they abuse opioid painkillers, concluded a study done by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health between 2011 to 2013.
In the last three decades, there has been a shift on how doctors (in the United States) treat pain. In the late 1980s, physicians wanted to treat pain more effectively, and with this they began to prescribe opioids more generously.
“In other countries, physicians usually give patients ibuprofen at the most. In the United States, most likely a physician will prescribe Percocet or something stronger,” says McDonnell.
In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult every four hours for one month according to cdc.gov.
Today, the United States consumes more than half of the world’s opioid supply.
With the rising costs of prescription drugs, people are turning to heroin because it is cheaper and can have similar effects to opioid pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin. It is being used to manage pain without much cost.
Today, heroin can run as low as $5 a bag, which is cheaper than prescription drugs, marijuana, cigarettes, and a six-pack of beer.
“There are some pharmacies that sell syringes without a prescription. I am against it because I feel like I could be possibly contributing to someone’s drug addiction,” says Julie Touch, a pharmacy technician at CVS.
Opioid painkillers are helpful for many, but can also prove to be the exact opposite by helping start drug addiction.
Nowadays, where heroin is more accessible than alcohol and is present in suburban and rural communities, it does not require a lot of effort to at the least have access to it. To conclude, it only takes one prescription for an opioid painkiller to open the door to illicit drugs like heroin.