Concurrent Abuse of Prescription Opioids and Heroin on the Rise

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have surveyed 15,000 patients at drug treatment centers in 49 states, and report that although regional variations exist, many substance abusers are resorting to both heroin and prescription opioids, depending on availability. The pattern of combination abuse was more pronounced on the East and West coasts. Abusers in the Deep South continued to exhibit a preference for prescription opioids over heroin.  The findings are published in a letter appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Senior investigator Theodore J. Cicero, PhD, commented “People used to tell us quite often, ‘At least I’m not using heroin,’ when we asked about their drug abuse. But in recent years, many have come to ignore that aversion, both because heroin is cheaper and accessible and because they’ve seen friends and neighbors use heroin.” In addition, he noted that the federal initiative to curb illegal prescribing and to shutter so-called “pill mills” has pushed abusers of prescription painkillers to supplement their behavior with heroin.  Read more about the findings here. The NEJM correspondence may be read here.

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