Compared To Hard-Core Heroin Addicts, Young Painkiller Addicts And Abusers Are At Greater Risk Of Overdose

Compared To Hard-Core Heroin Addicts, Young Painkiller Addicts And Abusers Are At Greater Risk Of Overdose

When it comes to avoiding overdose, or dealing with an overdose when it happens, most prescription painkiller users and abusers are a lot less ‘savvy’ than street heroin addicts. This single fact – ignorance of how to avoid and treat overdose – is behind the skyrocketing numbers of deaths among young prescription painkiller abusers across the country, says a new study published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy. In part, says the study, it’s a failing of federal and state drug policies to ensure that the prescription painkiller abuse population – mostly white, middle-class teens and young adults – has been adequately informed about the risks of painkiller overdose, and the availability of medications like naloxone that can halt and reverse an overdose if administered in time. Heroin addicts from Texas to Alaska and California to Maine all know about the drug naloxone, and many carry small applicators of the drug to be used on themselves or companions in the event of an overdose.

Many police and first responders also carry naloxone for just that same reason, and it’s used in every emergency department in the country. But among a large population of prescription painkiller users in New York City, the study found a woeful lack of knowledge not just about naloxone, but about overdose in general – what it is, and what to do about it. “What we found is that when it comes to how to handle an overdose, prescription opioid users who weren't using drugs for official medical reasons were less savvy than, say, more traditional heroin-using populations,” said study author David Frank, a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. “In fact, they tend to have a pretty severe lack of knowledge and a lot of confusion about it, despite the fact that most have experienced overdoses within their drug-using network.” And it was even worse. The study found prescription drug abusers basking in the false idea that because they were taking prescription drugs – clean, made in a lab, known amount of active ingredient – they were somehow protected from the dangers of overdose experienced by the street heroin crowd. And even worse than that, many didn’t even consider themselves “addicts.” Even though they were definitely addicted, they had some idea that because it wasn’t to street drugs, they weren’t really addicts in the strict sense of the word. “We found that prescription opioid [users] make a big distinction between themselves and heroin users,” Frank said. “Opioid users tend to be whiter, younger and come from a higher socioeconomic background. And even though opiates and heroin are pharmacologically similar, work by the same mechanism and can both cause an overdose, even daily opioid users seem to think that simply because they’re taking a doctor-prescribed medicine they’re not doing a dangerous drug.” These dangerous ideas and attitudes about drug abuse, and the lack of knowledge about how to respond to overdose, need to be addressed by medical and legal authorities at all levels, the study said.

Prescription drugs vs street drugs

As far as overdose and death goes, there is zero chemical difference between prescription opioid painkillers like hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, etc.) and oxycodone (Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin, etc.) and the heroin people cop on street corners. Both the prescription drugs and the street drugs are dangerous for the same exact reason: they can depress the central nervous system, slow down and eventually stop the body from breathing and finally kill you. This is the classic opioid overdose – think Corey Monteith, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and dozens of other celebs in just the past decade. Unlike prescription opioid users, street heroin users face an added risk – not knowing for sure how pure any new batch of heroin is. They have to shoot up carefully until they determine how strong it is so they can avoid an overdose. And they have to make sure the fillers added to ‘stretch’ the heroin aren’t too toxic. And not only that, they have to make sure the ‘heroin’ they’ve just copped is actually heroin, and not something else like fentanyl, a prescription opioid painkiller sometimes used in place of heroin, which can create different effects. Prescription painkiller abusers, on the other hand, know exactly what they’re getting. The pill they are taking was made in a lab to exacting specifications – for example, if the Vicodin tablets are marked for 150 mg of hydrocodone, that’s exactly what’s in each pill. And, it’s pure – no toxic filler surprises. So yes, the prescription opioid painkiller use has a slight advantage in purity and predictability. But the flip side, says the study – ignorance about overdoses and a blind spot about addiction – is the problem here.

The bottom line – what you can do

Here’s the bottom line for anyone who’s got a problem with opioids – especially prescription painkillers: PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS ARE JUST AS DANGEROUS AS STREET DRUGS. Don’t think, even for a second, that because it’s a prescription drug it isn’t as risky, as hazardous, or as treacherous as any heroin or fentanyl on the street. Call us here at Novus and get the help you need. We’re always here to help, and we are the opioid detox specialists with the most modern, cutting-edge medically supervised treatment in the country.

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