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From Painkillers to Heroin: A Deadly Leap

Heroin in New Mexico is selling at 1977 prices, says The Partnership at Drugfree.org in a 2012 study. If you’re looking for your fix you can still find it for about ten bucks, basically unchanged from the price of product sold thirty years ago. Unfortunately, the drug is more pure than it was back then, which means it’s more deadly.

In an interesting side note, the cost of funerals has dramatically increased from less than $6,000 ten years ago to about $10,000, excluding headstone. That means even if it costs you less in 2013 dollars for your heroin high than it did thirty years ago, dying from an overdose will cause your family to pay more for your final send-off.

The Partnership cites a story in MSNBC for its details on the increase in heroin abuse. People who began using painkillers to get high in their teens find that those prescription pills such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet and other narcotic painkillers are no longer so easily available, or they may have become costs prohibitive. The increased availability of heroin in New Mexico is due to fact that it comes right over the border from Mexico into the States.

A long-time medical office manager talks about how patients come for treatment of trauma injuries and easily get hooked on prescription painkillers. Not that long ago, she says, a patient initially treated after an automobile accident or injury would go from doctor to doctor complaining about his pain. His family physician and then an orthopedic doctor might both write prescriptions, and next he could go to a dentist to get yet another prescription for a supposed toothache. This ‘doctor shopping’ afforded easy an easy way to maintain a habit.

Even when they sought multiple prescriptions from the same doctor, the patients could be very creative in their requests. She recalls one patient whose outlandish excuses included losing his prescription because it was in the pocket of his jeans laundered by his mother. Another time the same patient reported that he had dropped his prescription down an elevator shaft when a Salvation Army bell ringer scared him. There was very little tracking of pain medication prescriptions through the 1990’s.

That changed in the last decade or so, with computer databases making it possible for physicians and pharmacists to communicate more effectively about how many prescriptions for pain medication a patient had presented with.  There is also more random as well as routine federal monitoring of prescriptions issued for painkillers.

Heroin abuse is not limited to New Mexico neighborhoods. It’s happening in urban centers like Dallas, Oklahoma City, Chicago, and other cities and towns where emergency department visits for heroin overdose rose 288 percent over a decade’s time. It’s happening in rural and small town centers across America.

Today’s drug abusers are getting dependent on painkillers and then becoming desperate when their sources dry up. It becomes easy to make the leap from paying upwards of twenty dollars for an OxyContin bought on the street to about half that cost for heroin.

According to Join Together, a doctor in Columbus, Ohio, tells of an upscale young woman typical of the heroin patients he sees. “Oh, I just went to a party and it was there, and I loved it,” this woman said to the doctor.  In New Mexico, 86 percent of patients overdosing on heroin are age 25 or older.

Treatment for heroin addiction requires combined therapies, including behavioral modification and supervised withdrawal.  It’s also an addiction that requires completely separating an addict from access to his drug of choice, via an inpatient hospital stay or a residential substance abuse treatment center. If you know someone who needs to stop using heroin, call Vista Taos Renewal Center at 1.800.245.8267.

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