Disturbing Trend -Prescription Pill Experimentation Leading to Full Blown Heroin Abuse

Written by Eliza Player on Wednesday, 28 March 2012. Posted in Voices in Recovery, Heroin

Tonight, I read an article from Washington State, discussing heroin use around the Seattle area.  Seattle has much more of a reputation for heroin than many of the places I have lived.  The grunge scene began there, and the history of heroin use in the city runs deep.

My reaction, though, was to another point.  The article sites that 40% of the heroin users in the area first became addicted to prescription pills, like Oxycontin.  Eventually, these addicts began abusing heroin because it is cheaper and more readily available.  40% of heroin addicts around the Seattle area were first addicted to prescription opiates, and that is nearly half.

I am willing to bet that the percentage is much higher in many other places.  Seattle has a reputation for heroin, with a more checkered past of heroin incidents than many other cities in the United States.   I got on methadone for the first time in Savannah, Georgia, and the clinic was the only clinic anywhere in the area.  Some people drove almost two hours there and back each day to get their daily methadone dose.  The majority of the patients were Oxycontin users, and I was actually a minority as a heroin user.

Unlike so many of the statistics show today, I did not begin my opiate addiction using prescription pills.  I began using heroin long before Oxycontin came onto the market.  I remember when Oxycontin first came onto the market.  As a heroin addict, I loved the heroin-like high.  I was amazed that a pill could provide a high so similar to heroin.  But, I did not start using Oxycontin.  It was much more expensive, and that did not make any sense to me.  I used them in a pinch, but I preferred to get more bang for my buck.

I knew what I was getting myself into when I started using heroin.  And I knew what I was getting myself into when I began using a needle.  But, mine is not the story you so often hear.  More often, you hear the story of that the person who began using opiate prescription drugs.  Doctors prescribed the opiates for some, and some got them form the streets, but few ever thought they would graduate from their pills to heroin.

The article asserts that heroin does not really fit into a niche, even in a place like Seattle.  The rise among young users in the area shows a variety of circumstance.  The article mentions a star ball player becoming an addict, or someone from a broken home, and also someone from a good home.  Heroin does not discriminate.  No substance does.

Sargent Hoag, who is 21-year veteran at the Sheriff’s office in King County, has worked many of these cases.  He says, “Many of the young heroin users he has come in contact with, however, have one thing in common: they never expected their Oxycontin experimentation would lead to full blown heroin use.”  I have heard this sentiment over and over with prescription pills.

The stigma with prescription pills is nothing like the stigma with heroin.  People think that because they are ‘legal’ and prescribed by doctor, so they are not that bad.  Many of these people also realize that pills are bought and sold on the street without a doctor and a prescription, but if a doctor can provide them, then they must not be that bad.  Right?

In a sense, yes.  These prescription pills are always made in the same formula, and the potency does not vary much between batches.  The prescription pills do not contain cut, or other extraneous and potentially harmful additives.  These prescription pills come in particular quantities, and they are generally the same each time you get them.  And today, some of these prescription pills are less tamper resistant.

But, the fact of the matter is that many of the opiates on the market produce a high very similar to heroin.  And, more importantly, many of these opiates on the market are also highly addictive.  Many people fail to realize that some of these prescription pills have many of the same effects/side effects as heroin, and they can be just as dangerous.

Over time, your body begins to depend on these opiates.  Opiates naturally occur in your brain and they are the chemicals that make you feel good.  When you supply your brain with opiates from other sources, it will not produce as much of its own opiates.  It does not need to.

Even after using a strong opiate for a couple of weeks, you will feel mild discomfort when you stop taking them.  The effects vary among users, but with a short-term continual use, one may experience chills, hot flashes, and irritability.  At this point, the symptoms are incredibly mild and one may not even notice them as withdrawal symptoms.

With continual use over a long period of time, your brain quits making its own opiates all together.  At this point, the user is providing way more than the natural level of opiates to stay high, or even to stay out of pain.  The brain, flooded with the chemical, no longer needs to make it.

When the user stops taking the opiates, the brain becomes devoid of all opiates.  It takes the brain several days to begin making its natural opiates again, and in that lull the user experiences an extreme withdrawal.  For at least three days, the user goes through a physical hell, termed ‘sickness’ in the circles of the addicted.

Again, the symptoms are varied, but include vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, twitching, and complete insanity.  It is the worst physical and mental hell I have ever known.  These same withdrawal symptoms occur with may prescription opiates.  The withdrawal is no different than heroin.

You do not have to shoot or snort an Oxycontin, Opana, or even a Percocet to become addicted.  You do not have to take an excess of the prescription your doctor gave you to become addicted.  You become addicted to opiate by taking them continuously over time.  The length of time and the strength of the opiate and method of ingestion will determine the severity of the withdrawal.  But, the withdrawal will occur with continued use of any opiate.

About the Author

Eliza Player

Eliza Player

I have been writing as long as I can remember, even carrying tattered notebooks with me through the streets and strip clubs of New Orleans, in the midst of my heroin addiction. I lived a life saturated in heroin until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving me to fend for myself, eventually facing my demons and coming face to face with my addiction. I have been clean for five years, and since then I have become a mother, graduated college, and started a writing career. I have a B.A. in Mass Media Communication, with a minor in Journalism. I have also written one published book, Through Both Hell and High Water: A Memoir of Addiction and Hurricane Katrina, which tells the story of those dark days I spent in New Orleans after the storm, battling with addiction amidst a natural disaster. I am the blogger and news curator for RecoveryNowTV, and I love sharing the stories of the world, as well as my own personal journey, with my readers. I hope that my words can touch others out there, struggling with addiction.

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