The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has once again shined a light on illegal drug abuse and its stark consequences. But the most widely abused drug in the United States is not heroin, cocaine or marijuana; it's the medication you have to have a prescription to get.
Since 2003, there have been more overdoses involving prescription opioids than heroin and cocaine combined, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers say the population of opiate users is changing, and they are finding a stronger link between the use of legal prescriptions and heroin.
From The New York Times:
Rates of prescription opiate abuse have risen steadily over the last decade, while the number of people reporting that they used heroin in the past 12 months has nearly doubled since 2007 to 620,000, according to government statistics. That's no coincidence, researchers argue: more people than ever now get a taste of opiates at a young age, and recovering addicts live in a world with far more temptations than there were a generation ago.
"You can get the pills from so many sources," said Traci Rieckmann, an addiction researcher at Oregon Health & Science University. "There's no paraphernalia, no smell. It's the perfect drug, for many people."
Millions of people use these drugs safely, and doctors generally prescribe them conscientiously. But for some patients, prescription painkillers can act as an introduction — or a reintroduction — to an opiate high. The pills set off heroin craving in recovering addicts, doctors say, every bit as well as they soothe withdrawal in current users.
On The Daily Circuit, we discuss the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs and the dilemma doctors face in writing painkiller prescriptions.