Simultaneous Prescription Opioid and Heroin Use Rising

Opioid abusers are increasingly supplementing their habit with heroin.

The number of prescription opioid abusers who also use heroin is rising, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The federal government has been pushing efforts to shut down “pill mills” and stop doctors from illegally prescribing opioids, which has made them more difficult to acquire. However, it seems that to supplement this, drug abusers are turning to heroin when prescription opioids are difficult to access.

“If users can’t get a prescription drug, they might take whatever else is there, and if that’s heroin, they use heroin,”  Theodore Cicero, PhD, Washington University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

The researchers also found regional trends across the United States. The Northeast “showed the most striking shifts in patterns of abuse” with the West Coast following closely behind. In both of these regions, the abuse of both prescription opioids and heroin surpassed exclusive opioid abuse in 2014.

In the Midwest, this trend is present but less apparent, and in the deep South, exclusive prescription opioid abuse is more prevalent.

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“A variety of factors are involved that account for regional differences,” Dr. Cicero told Clinical Pain Advisor. “Some of these are the availability of heroin by different distribution routes and varying countries that provide heroin to different parts of the United States.

“Another is the limiting or non-limiting factors of prescription opioid availability due to the strengths or weaknesses of programs such as [prescription drug monitoring programs], law enforcement involvement, or community involvement that differ from state to state and thus, can create regional differences; and regional differences in how the abuse of heroin is stereotyped,” he added.