Top Menu

Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse May Have Fueled Heroin Use: Experts


Some addiction experts say the U.S. government’s fight against prescription drug abuse may have inadvertently contributed to the rise in heroin use, according to The Washington Post. Now that some pain medications are less available and more expensive, many people who used to abuse those drugs have switched to heroin, which is cheaper.

The crackdown on “pill mills” has helped to reduce the illegal use of medications, the article notes. But many people who had abused prescription opioids simply switched to heroin, which provides a comparable, euphoric 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 of Washington University in St. Louis, who co-authored a 2012 study that found OxyContin abuse decreased after the painkiller was reformulated to make it more difficult to misuse. Many people who abused the drug have switched to heroin, according to the study.

The study included more than 2,500 people who were dependent on opioids, who were followed between July 2009 and March 2012. During that time, there was a 17 percent decrease in OxyContin abuse. In 2010, the company that makes OxyContin introduced a new version of the drug that is more difficult to inhale or inject. During the same period, heroin abuse doubled.

According to Cicero, the government could have taken steps sooner against heroin use, such as by promoting the use of medicines to fight overdoses and ease symptoms of withdrawal.

Not everyone agrees that the crackdown on prescription drug abuse has led to the rise in heroin use. Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who runs the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control, told the newspaper, “I don’t think one thing has anything to do with the other.” He noted many lives have been saved by the effort to reduce prescription drug abuse.

4 Responses to this article

  1. Leslie / June 15, 2014 at 6:12 am

    Prescription narcotics for pain should be reserved for end of life situations, post surgery, or for short-term use after a serious injury. They are being prescribed for any and every generalized pain complaints people can come up with. The Doctors hand out addictive drugs and expect the patients not to get addicted? It is a viscious cycle that drug companies are making a fortune off of. Meanwhile, that addict is neglecting a child, losing a job, overdosing, etc. all for the sake of getting that high. I have seen much suffering that affects whole families due to an overpowering addiction. If you don’t think it affects all of us, think about this: Most of the addicts I know have become dependent on the government to support them and their families since a job would interfear with their drug use. They wreck cars due to being intoxicated due to their drug use. They lie, cheat, steel and some would kill for more pills.

  2. Denny A. / March 15, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Nearly forty years ago one of my first patients in the state mental institution taught me the first fact of addiction: addiction will seek relief. He explained that he preferred bourbon, but also explained how to strain Sterno through bread. In understanding addiction, he was smarter than many officials and scientists. I have seen the so-called authorities chase after drugs with almost as much vigor and enthusiasm as a person addicted looking for that next fix. Like the spouse who pours the booze down the drain, trying to separate addicts from drugs is doomed to failure. Until we realize the first fact of addiction — people will use whatever they can get until they get better — we are wasting lives. Until our entire focus is on finding better ways of helping people find peace, purpose, passion and partnership, we are wasting still more lives. Until prevention, treatment and recovery are the priority, rather than fighting the drug-du-jour, we will fail. Until we stop the war on drugs, whether it is against imported cocaine, Afghan heroin or domestic pharmaceuticals, and declare peace on people, we will not succeed. Until then, whether agent in foreign lands or in an office here at home, we are all like the spouse, pouring the booze down the drain, and an invaluable part of humanity along with it.

  3. Perry Kaplan / March 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I don’t know of any expert on substance abuse that doesn’t recognize the connection between the crackdown on prescription opioids and the increase in heroin use. Mr. Rannazzisi is hardly an expert, he is a cop who has been given a job. And like the carpenter who only has a hammer, pretty soon every piece of metal begins to look like a nail.
    Every prohibition that the U.S. has tried has failed, and the “war on drugs” is not different. It will continue to have fatal, tragic consequences until we realize that prohibitions don’t work–cannot work. I’m sure that Mr. Rannazzisi is a hard-working man who believes that keeping drugs off the streets saves lives. What he does not understand is that while his efforts may save one particular life in one particular place by interdicting a particular shipment of drugs, he and his colleagues cannot stop drugs from being imported, diverted or whatever. So, he will say, what should we do, open up the gates and let the dealers sell as much as they want?
    It’s the wrong question, and those who have been in the drug wars know it. The fact is that we have almost no influence on the supply side of the drug problem. But we can have a huge impact on the demand side, and we can limit the damage of drugs with intelligent treatment and public health approaches. And as one author wrote, “Educate, educate, educate.”
    One day this society will wake up and realize that you can’t create a world where not one single person will ever do something that may harm them, but you can minimize the harm.

  4. Howard Josepher / March 12, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    There is no doubt that the increase in heroin addiction is directly related to the increasing difficulty and expense of pharmaceutical opiate. Drug cartels are not dummies and they see the opportunity to market their product to those who struggle to obtain the pain killing medications. Making potent and inexpensive heroin readily available induces those addicted to opiates to cross over. The same tactic was used in the early 80′s by cocaine cartels when they saw middles class use of powdered cocaine diminishing and a new market in poorer communities was created through the development and marketing of crack

Leave a Reply

Please read our comment policy and guidelines before you submit a comment. Your email address will not be published. Thank you for visiting

five + = 11

Reproduction in whole or in part of this publication is strictly prohibited without prior consent. Photographic rights remain the property of Join Together and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. For reproduction inquiries, please e-mail