Resources & Education

September 16th, 2014

From Hydros to Heroin: Rx pill abuse is a precursor to heroin use

ID-10025388Did you know that one in five Americans reports abusing a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime? It’s possible that some people could have a genetic predisposition to addiction, leading to more drastic internal changes the longer the addiction continues. (Source: WebMD)

Ingestion of pain pills leads to a physical rush which causes the user to want more, leaving them to repeat the cycle and ingest more and more each time to achieve the same high — this is called tolerance.

So how does pain pill abuse lead to heroin abuse?

    1. The crackdown on prescription opiates by pharmaceutical companies and the government makes pills harder for users to find and purchase for their next high. This seemingly proactive step towards ending prescription pill abuse, pushes users towards cheaper, more readily-available options like heroin.
        • In 2010, Purdue Pharma changed their OxyContin capsules to something more tamper resistant, making snorting or injecting the pills extremely difficult. However, though user preference for OxyContin dropped 64%, reported heroin use nearly doubled.
        • In 2013, New York State implemented the I-STOP/PMP – Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing – Prescription Monitoring Program. It’s harder to get Rx pills from multiple locations because doctors and other prescribers are required to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) Registry when writing prescriptions for various controlled substances. The PMP Registry provides practitioners with direct, secure access to view dispensed controlled substance prescription histories for their patients.
    2. Pain pills are more expensive.  Heroin costs less, and has become far more available in cities and suburbs alike. Where prescription pills can cost $50-$60 apiece, a bag of heroin can cost as little as $10 and can be much easier to find.


  1. Pain pill abuse leads to chasing a better high.  Prescription pills stimulate the areas of the brain that perceive pleasure resulting in a feeling of well-being and euphoria. The brain releases dopamine as a positive reward for activities, making human beings wish to repeat the action later on. This fuels the addictive process, making users more and more desperate to feel the same rush and release that they felt when previously ingesting the drugs.Because of this need for constant release, the brain believes that a constant opioid stimulus is as essential to survival as eating and drinking. Some experts believe that overuse and long-term abuse can actually lead to changes in the nerve cells of the brain.

    While prescription pills contain a certain amount of opiate, heroin becomes much more appealing with its higher potency. According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 80% of first-time heroin users started by misusing and abusing prescriptions.

Convenience is key

Because opioid abuse affects the brain on a molecular level, users lose control over their need to pursue and achieve the ultimate high. Meaning, when pills are moderated by PMPs, or prescription monitoring programs, substance abusers are driven to desperate measures, seeking out the closest and most convenient option regardless of the disastrous effects on their health or welfare.

While the demographic for heroin use has shifted from previously-surmised urban, minority males to wealthy, suburban teens and young adults, there are still efforts to reduce the rampant spread of opioid and heroin abuse. PMPs are still fairly new, making their effectiveness unknown until a later date.

However, 14 states have passed laws making it easier to call 911 in the event of an overdose, and 17 states have passed laws making an overdose antidote more available to the public. Naloxone, can be administered by a non-medical personnel via nasal spray or an injection to the muscle, claiming one successful reversal for every six kits distributed.

With the increasing crackdown on prescription pill abuse there’s no telling how many struggling substance abusers could be pushed to more drastic measures. If you’re concerned for a friend or loved one, or for yourself and are in the Western New York area, please contact Horizon Health Services and schedule a consultation at (716) 831-1800.


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