Over the past decades, more and more people have started abusing prescription drugs for recreational purposes. As more people abuse prescription drugs and the demand rises, some illegitimate clinics and pharmacies began to illegally supply people with illicit narcotics that they didn’t really need. Prescription drug abuse has grown rapidly since the 1990s and the graph below from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows this:
The supply for the prescription drugs often start with “pill mills” – doctors, pain clinics, and pharmacies who work together to provide pain medication to those who may or may not actually need the medication. The CDC released this 2011 press release which illustrated some of the steps being taken by the states and the federal government to create monitoring programs in an effort to reduce the practice of doctor shopping (going from doctor to doctor for a prescription). The program also aimed to create better disposal methods of unused medications and included a series of take-downs and arrests of illegitimate pain clinics.
These state and federal crackdowns on pain clinics combined with high street prices for opiates (like OxyContin) have led many addicts to consider another cheaper alternative – heroin. This recent Wall Street Journal article describes a 53% increase from 2002 to 2011 in people who say they have used heroin in the past and over 3,000 overdose deaths in 2010. Many people who were abusing other prescription narcotics and opioids are now turning to heroin because it’s less expensive and easier to get. The article also points out that pharmaceutical companies are reformulating their pills to make them harder to crush and snort, the preferred method of use by addicts.
The surge of chronic abusers of prescription opioids combined with an illegal demand for the drugs caused a strong response and a crackdown on the illegal suppliers. Although this crackdown is a good thing, it does little to address the needs of people who are addicted to prescription drugs, or who legitimately need the pills for pain management.
Some people believe that prescription pharmaceutical drugs are not the same as other illegally made drugs, but both heroin and prescription opiates have similar effects on the user. Why? They’re both derivatives of the opium poppy plant. Now that Florida (among other states) has cracked down on pain clinics, where are all of the prescription pill addicts going to go?