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Prescription Opioids to Heroin Addiction

Prescription Opioids to Heroin Addiction

Heroin was once thought of as an inner city problem, not something you would hear about in small towns throughout America--a drug used by the lower income class. Today the landscape has dramatically changed and it has become a nationwide epidemic hitting rural areas, suburbs, and small cities including Seattle.

Prescription Opioids to Heroin Addiction

The rise in heroin addiction has resulted from over prescribed opioid painkillers such as OxyContin. As restrictions have tightened on prescribing these painkillers, addicts have turned to the streets and discovered heroin to be a cheaper and stronger way to get high. An OxyContin pill can cost around $80 on the street, while a hit of heroin is $10-$20. Over half of heroin addicts reportedly started abusing prescription painkillers before they ever used heroin.

OxyContin was created by the Sacklers family under their company, Purdue Pharma, which they purchased in 1952. In the 70’s they developed a controlled drug release system called Contin and twelve years later released the patented pill, MS Contin, an extended-release formulation of morphine for cancer patients. In the early 90’s, the patent on MS Contin was expiring and Purdue Pharma was set out to develop a new painkilling moneymaker and did so with oxycodone.

Oxycodone was created by German scientists in 1916 after the Bayer corporation’s drug, heroin, was banned in America. It was introduced in America in 1939 and was released for prescription in 1950 as Percodan in combination with aspirin. By 1963, it was the source of one-third of all drug addiction in California, and in 1970 oxycodone was listed by the DEA defined as having a high potential for abuse and considered dangerous.

Yet Purdue Pharma took the generic painkiller oxycodone and installed a timed-release mechanism, which allegedly allowed the drug’s effects to spread over 12 hour periods. Not long after OxyContin’s launch in 1995, primary care doctors were prescribing it for a laundry list of painful symptoms.

The drug crisis began in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. These rural areas are primarily populated with laborers in industries such as coal mining and timbering that were prone to injuries and pain. The promise of living pain-free with prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin was marketed very aggressively throughout these states the 1990s and early 2000s. Sales hit $1.5 billion by 2002 and today they have reached over $3 billion.

Addiction problems started to arise when pain relief wasn’t lasting as long as promised. Some were experiencing the return of pain in under eight hours that came with withdrawal side effects. Purdue insisted that the formula was correct and encouraged physicians to provide stronger dosages to patients complaining of the pill not lasting instead of prescribing it more frequently. The stronger dose didn’t increase the length of pain relief and instead caused worse withdrawal effects and in turn a demand for more.

It was also discovered that not only had more cases come about with OxyContin not lasting, but that it wasn’t abuse-resistant as reported. If the pill was crunch up and snorted, it would break the time-release mechanism for an immediate heroin-like high.

Florida soon became the center of the opioid epidemic with the ability prescribe the pill with ease. The state’s southern corridor was even named “Oxy Express.” This brought in shady business practices and the creation of “pill mills” due to the state’s liberal laws on prescription medication. Eventually Florida had to change its law, but not before it had already facilitated tens of thousands of addicts. When those addicts couldn’t get prescription opioid anymore, they turned to heroin.

The strict laws on prescribing opioid has been enforced across the country, which has caused the rise of heroin addiction resulting in the current epidemic, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Even though fatal drug overdoses by prescription opioids are at their lowest point in a decade, heroin fatal overdoses have tripled in King County since 2009 and treatment admissions have double since 2010.

On the path to find a resolution, Seattle officials are thinking outside the box. If they can’t force addicts to stop doing it, how about helping them?

One way is for Northwest drugstores to sell Naloxone, which is a lifesaving heroine antidote that can reverse the effects of an overdose. It is available without a prescription as an injectable drug or nasal spray. Even Seattle bicycle police have started carrying it in case of overdose emergencies on the street.

The other way is to give addicts a place to shoot up. In March of 2016, Mayor Ed Murry created a heroin task force that has endorsed a strategy of establishing facilities where addicts would be allowed to take drugs without fear of being arrested. These “safe consumption facilities” would allow addicts to engage in drug use legally under trained supervision. They would receive clean needles and syringes, but they would not supply the drugs.

This concept isn’t a new one. In 2003, Canada open the first “Insite” supervised injection facility in Vancouver. The facility is connected to a housing program and other services to help people who use drugs in the city’s downtown eastside area. Some Canadian officials believe money should be directed towards providing more treatment to get addicts off the street. With heroin being such an addictive drug, these facilities give addicts a reason to avoid recovery. Insite does not agree. The center has up to 1,000 injections daily, which they claim has led to a reduction in overdose deaths, crime, and the spread of disease in the neighborhood. It has encouraged more addicts into recovery, which is offered upstairs of the facility. They give addicts the independence to make their own choices while instilling the idea of recovery. It’s the mentality that one will not get help unless they are ready to get it for themselves. In addition, no one has ever died from an overdose under their supervision since they opened in 2003.

The war on drugs isn’t a new problem. We have been fighting it for over two decades and it’s only gotten worse. It has forced people to hide on the streets to inject and share needles, which has spread disease and death. These safe consumption facilities are a solution. The concept has been proven to work and also it will save taxpayers money. For every clinic built, it is estimated to save $6 to $1 per patient to be spent on stabilization and safety. But the most important point is that it will help reduce addiction and get people off the streets. It’s time to end the battle and help humanity by putting lives and needs above legalities for a safer and healthier Seattle.

8 Natural Pain Relievers to Try Before Resorting to Prescription Painkillers

1. Omega-3 fats helps prevent inflammation before it begins.
2. Optimizing your production of vitamin D with daily sun exposure supports different mechanisms to reduce pain.
3. Studies have confirmed that chiropractic treatment is safer and less expensive than allopathic medical treatments, especially when used for pain.
4. Acupuncture is proven to treat many kinds of pain by improving circulation and reducing inflammation.
5. Massage therapy is shown to be as good as surgery for pain conditions such as torn cartilage and arthritis.
6. Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory activity and offers pain relief and stomach settling properties.
7. A past study found that curcumin blocks inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the overproduction of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.
8. Boswellia or “Indian frankincense,” contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Written by Dr. Scott Mindel. View published article in the Ville Magazine 2016 Sept/Oct Fashion issue.

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