Abusers of opioids ditched prescription opioids for heroin (or a combination of prescription opioids and heroin) for “practical” reasons, such as accessibility and cost, researchers wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The drugs are becoming less accessible, the drugs are more expensive but you’ve still got these people with terrible addictions,” said Theodore J. Cicero, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, in an interview with The Taos News. The professor of psychiatry at University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis went on to say, “They’re turning to heroin because it turns out that it’s cheaper.”
Cicero and colleagues collected quarterly data from January 1, 2008, to September 31, 2014, using self-administered surveys that were completed anonymously by 15,227 people who abuse opioids. Of these 15,227 people, 267 agreed to online interviews to gather qualitative information in order to amplify and interpret findings from the structured national survey.
The key findings include:
- Abuse of prescription opioids alone has decreased 6.1% annually
- Exclusive abuse of prescription opioids fell from 70% of the total population to 50%
- Abuse of heroin alone has increased 14.4% annually
- Exclusive abuse of heroin was low overall, but more than doubled from 4.3% to 9%
- Abuse of prescription opioids and heroin combined has increased 10.3% annually
- Abuse of both prescription opioids and heroin combined increased from 23.6% of the total population to 41.8%
The author noted that there is too much focus on cutting the supply of prescription opioids, which not only affects how abusers access opioids, it has an impact on how those who legally and appropriately use prescription opioids access them, too.
To this point, one National Pain Report reader commented, “I gave up trying to legitimately fix my health issues. Do you know what that resulted in? Me becoming a heroin addict. Not because I WAS prescribed opiates…..but because I WASN’T.”
Dr. Cicero says that the underlying problem of addiction is what needs to be addressed.
“We need to address the demand,” he told The Taos News. “Prohibition didn’t reduce the demand for alcohol. The same argument can be extended to opioids.”