Small towns across the U.S. are seeing an increase in heroin use. The cause is dwindling supplies of the prescription narcotic oxycodone.
Oxycodone, which is sold under brand names like Oxycontin, Oxyneo, Percocet, and Percodan, is a powerful synthetic opioid derived from the papaver somniferum, or opium poppy plant. While oxycodone is legitimately prescribed for moderate to severe pain, it is also sold on the black market as a recreational drug. Powerful and addictive, regular users of oxycodone can quickly become addicted. An opiate addict becomes physically ill within hours after their last dose, prompting them to seek out more drugs to avoid withdrawal.
With the rising costs of prescription drugs, users of oxycodone are turning to heroin to find a cheaper way to maintain their habits. Any drug of the opiate class can be substituted for one another to stave off
withdrawal symptoms. For many, switching to heroin is simple economics. In some parts of the country, a single Oxycontin pill containing 80 milligrams of oxycodone can cost $80 on the black market. A bag of heroin, which contains approximately 30 milligrams of diacetylmorphine, can cost somewhere between $5 and $10. Heroin is approximately twice as potent per weight as oxycodone, so one bag of heroin is roughly equivalent to one 80 milligram pill of oxycodone. By switching from oxycodone over to heroin, users can save a lot of money, which is often a necessity as they empty their bank accounts to feed their addiction.
Heroin users may start out by snorting or smoking the compound, but many soon begin injecting it. Intravenous heroin use provides a rush of euphoria that other routes of administration lack. Addicts claim that this rush is what gives heroin its unique appeal, and it makes quitting the drug much more difficult.
In addition to the physical dependence on opiates, addicts begin to crave the rush more and more. This leads to an increase in the amount of drug injected at once, which can lead to rapidly increased tolerance. As tolerance increases, so too does the amount the addict must spend to maintain their addiction. A heroin addict may find themselves injecting over ten bags of heroin a day, rivaling the cost of a single oxycodone pill. Unfortunately, the addict has an even stronger addiction than before, and they will find it very difficult to kick the habit.
Luckily for everyone, there is always hope of recovery, and the sooner they seek addiction treatment, the easier it will be.