Conflicting reports about the possible connection between prescription painkiller use and heroin use have spurred another group of researchers to begin a study. For many years, it was believed that prescription painkiller use had little or nothing to do with the growing heroin problem. Despite many people admitting to first getting hooked to pills, many experts believed that this small portion of the population did not account for much of the origins of heroin abuse in the country. However, recent studies have shown that there may be a correlation between increased prescription painkiller regulations and more people seeking out heroin.
“There’s been, in the last couple of years, a strong increase in use and mortality due to heroin overdose, and many people are wondering if the restrictions on prescription opioids are the squeezing balloon at one end and we’re seeing illicit heroin abuse on the other side,” explained Dan Hartung, investigator and associate professor of pharmacy practice with the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy.
The plan for this research study is to gather data from Medicaid and compare opiate user numbers from that population to the manufacturing changes that prescription painkillers have undergone in the last few years. These changes would include; changing the outer coating of the pill to prevent users from crushing the pills, minimizing the amount of pills emergency room doctors can prescribe and implanting prescription monitoring tools that help track any fraudulent or suspicious activities by people looking for prescription painkillers to abuse.
If this study corroborates other studies that have shown that these changes have increased the heroin usage in this country, then it will be time for experts to look for solutions that not only keep the amount of people abusing prescription painkillers to a minimum, but that also addresses the heroin problem as well.
Researchers have also started to agree that lower priced heroin and ease of access are other likely factors in the increase of heroin users and the decrease of prescription painkiller addicts. But, according to recent studies, 40 – 70% of heroin addicts have admitted to getting started with prescription painkillers prior to heroin.