There Were Signs That Heroin Would Become A Problem Again

heroinFrom the beginning, the U.S. government’s decade-long crackdown on abuse of prescription drugs has run an unsettling risk: that arresting doctors and shuttering “pill mills” would inadvertently fuel a new epidemic of heroin use. Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Major Crimes Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force question suspects during a raid on fake health clinics illegally dispensing medical prescriptions for OxyContin and other drugs in 2012.

State and federal officials have pressed their campaign against prescription-drug abuse with urgency, trying to contain a scourge that kills more than 16,000 people each year. The crackdown has helped reduce the illegal use of some medications and raised awareness of their dangers.

But at the same time that some pain medications have become less available on the street and pricier, many users have switched to cheaper heroin, since prescription pills and heroin are in the same class of drugs and provide a comparable euphoric high.

As we all know the heroin problem has been gaining speed. After Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from heroin and other drugs, the experts are saying that the government’s actions have contributed to the growing heroin problem. The war on drugs, the experts say, is a conflict where targeting one illicit substance an be an unintentional boom into another. And if the war on drugs understood addiction they would of probably seen this coming. When you take a substance away from an addict, they don’t stop using, they just switch substances. They will always find a way to get high. 

“Absolutely, much of the heroin use you’re seeing now is due in large part to making prescription opioids a lot less accessible,” said Theodore Cicero, a psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He co-authored a 2012 study, cited in the New England Journal of Medicine, that found that a reformulation of OxyContin to make it harder to abuse caused heroin use to nearly double.

Although policymakers “did the best they could at the time” in fighting prescription drugs, Cicero said, “there were signs years ago that this was going to happen, and there was just a lot of inaction.” He said the government could have acted sooner to mitigate heroin’s toll, such as by promoting the use of medicines to fight overdoses and ease withdrawal symptoms.

This doesn’t mean that targeting prescription drugs was necessarily a bad thing but the unawareness and shock of what is going on now, is unwarranted. Everyone should of seen it coming. 

In fact, the government kind of did. The government itself predicted that targeting prescription drugs could give heroin use an unintended lift.The Justice Department’s drug intelligence arm in 2002 highlighted the potential consequences: “As initiatives taken to curb the abuse of OxyContin are successfully implemented, abusers of OxyContin . . . also may begin to use heroin, especially if it is readily available, pure, and relatively inexpensive.”

But yet, those projections didn’t take factor in the discussions by top drug policy officials even after numerous government reports and congressional testimony indicated that the shift in heroin was happening, according to current and formal officials. 

So heroin use began its rise at around the end of the Bush administration has surged in the Obama years. 

Between 2007 and 2012, heroin use rose 79 percent nationwide, according to federal data. Within the same period, the data show, 81 percent of first-time heroin users had previously abused prescription drugs.