A Closer Look at the Pharmaceutical Drug Epidemic

First it was marijuana. Then the 80s brought about cocaine (both powder and crack) which led to club drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine which fueled the 90s rave scene. In the 2000s opiates like heroin led to abuse of prescription drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin.

Drugs are a major problem in the United States and each year we see increasing numbers of deaths by drug overdose. In fact, the overdose rate for drug users has more than doubled from 1999 to 2013 which has been fueled by new, cheaper, and more accessible drugs. Just as we seem to make inroads on stomping out the last epidemic, new substances make their way into the mainstream.

The Rise of Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Pharmaceutical Drugs

Legalized marijuana – for both medicinal and recreational use – has cut the profits in the marijuana trade to the point where the Mexican and South American drug cartels are beginning to hedge against a complete corporate takeover of their most profitable industry. As demand for marijuana went down, drug kingpins in the south began to shift the focus to a cheap and addictive drug known as heroin that proved to be an advantageous compliment to a pharmaceutical-obsessed society that was looking for a supplement to pain pills and prescription narcotics.

Prescription narcotics were widely available, but supply was quick to dry up as patients used their prescriptions and had to wait for more to be prescribed, or pay $100-dollars or more for a single Oxycontin pill on the street. While Oxy remained the drug of choice, cheap, and widely available heroin quickly became the standard fallback as the drug was often obtained for less than 1/10th of a single Oxycontin pill.

Heroin Prices Climb

As heroin gained in popularity, Border Patrol began to take notice. Through operations with the Mexican government as well as an increased presence at the border, major heroin busts as well as arrests of key cartel leaders led to increased prices and limited availability on the street in areas that had previously had the most prevalent supply. This dry spell led many users right back to prescription drugs, which they snorted, shot, smoked, or swallowed in order to enjoy a high that wasn’t quite as powerful as heroin, but remained readily available due to their relative ease in availability in the United States.

Prices Begin to Stabilize, Both Drugs Reach Epidemic Level

Over time, heroin again started to flood the streets and while a great deal of heroin addicts started with prescription drugs, the appeal of a more powerful high, cheaper prices, and widespread access to the drug often prove overwhelming.

While heroin and prescription painkillers have vastly different societal perceptions, the drugs are actually remarkably similar. As such, we’re beginning to see both pharmaceuticals and heroin use increase.

While both are dangerous, pharmaceuticals carry with them less of a stigma and are more widely abused by both younger individuals and adults. According to the CDC, in 2013, 51.8 percent of all drug overdose deaths were related to or directly caused by pharmaceutical drugs. Of 43,982 overdose deaths, a whopping 22,767 were related to pharmaceuticals.  Of those 22,767 deaths, 71.3 percent were opioid analgesics – also known as prescription painkillers. Benzos, or drugs containing the active ingredient benzodiazepine cause 30.6 percent of deaths related to pharmaceuticals. If you’re wondering why the numbers add up to more than 100-percent, the number is due to the fact that many drug overdoses are contributed as a mixture – or cocktail – of substances, which could mean that the user had traces of both painkillers and benzos that appeared in a toxicology screening.

While the number of deaths continues to climb, the usage rates aren’t subsiding. In fact, in some areas and in key demographics, usage is rising at such a rapid rate that it is quickly having detrimental financial effects on certain areas of the country. The financial crisis is brought on by social services costs (hospitilazation, detox, rehab), law enforcement (police, courts, probation officers, detention facilities), and the loss of workplace productivity due to rising numbers of arrests and  substance abusers entering treatment programs. In 2007, the United States lost 55.7 billion in workplace productivity, healthcare costs, abuse treatment and criminal justice costs – and that was just related to opioid painkiller abuse.

Prescription painkillers are addictive, dangerous, and growing in popularity. Because it is difficult to police prescription drug sellers and abusers, this is a problem that has the potential to perpetuate itself even further without a solid plan of attack to educate the public.

Prescott House is well equipped to assist men in overcoming their addiction to pharmaceutical drugs. Our years of experience in dealing with opioid addiction and its underlying causes has given us a unique perspective on sobriety in an age of prescription drug abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact us today to find out how we can help.

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dave_freyDave Frey —Director of Admissions

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