Opioids and the Heroin Epidemic

A study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has indicated the United States is going through a period of intense prescription opioid use while simultaneously experiencing a rapidly growing heroin abuse problem. The term opioid refers to natural or synthetic chemicals that bind to opioid receptors in your brain or body. Heroin and opioid prescription drugs, such as morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone etc., are considered common opioids which can easily lead to overdose when used together.


The heroin epidemic is a recent and rapidly growing problem in the United States. Heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. Experts believe the rise in heroin use came as the nation cracked down on prescription drug abuse. When pain pills became harder to obtain, their prices increased and heroin became a cheaper option for those addicted to opioids.


A national survey on drug use and health found people who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.


Health care professionals are now responding to the epidemic and trying to stop others from becoming addicted or help those already addicted. To prevent people from starting heroin, health care professionals are attempting to reduce prescription opioid painkiller abuse. There are new improvements to opioid painkiller prescribing practices and determining at an early stage if a patient is at a higher risk of abusing drugs.


There is also a push to reduce heroin addiction by helping those already addicted to the opioid. That includes ensuring access to Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT, which combines the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat those addicted to heroin.


And as a final resort to address this epidemic, some health care professionals are recommending the expansion of naloxone use. Naloxone can be a life-saving drug which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose when promptly administered.


We’ll break down what naloxone is and how it works in the next KeyScripts blog post.