According to a study from NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) which is a branch of the NIH (National Institute of Health) 50% of all heroin addiction begins as prescription drug abuse: “pain killers” like Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Percoset, Lortabs and Vicadin, to name just a few. Prescription Overdoses also eclipsed the Overdose deaths from Heroin and Cocaine combined. Thus, not only are direct deaths from prescription drug abuse massive but the second biggest source of drug overdose deaths, heroin, owes 50% of its addicts to prescription drugs. Thus it is clear that drug overdose deaths attributable to prescription drugs are clearly the vast majority of the 43,000 drug abuse overdose deaths that occurred last year here in the United States.
Glen Petcavage, the Executive Director of Narconon Colorado, a residential drug and alcohol rehab states that it is clear that admissions for heroin and prescription opiates are sky-rocketing due to the enormous rise in prescription drug abuse and its offspring, heroin. Sadly, for many, real help necessary for many is just not available as governments and insurers are still coming to grips with the enormity of the problem. Treatment for heroin addiction has escalated dramatically over the past five years.
To make matters worse the price of heroin has dropped from prices ranging around $70 gram (a gram being an average daily dose of heroin) to as low as $10 per gram. An addiction that used to cost perhaps $800 weekly now costs as low as $70 weekly. The combination of low heroin prices and availability and route of introduction via easy-to-take prescription painkillers has created a flood of new users.
Effective public policy still lags far behind the problem. Recent legalization of marijuana, another gateway drug for heroin, belies the lack of legislative understanding of today’s drug addiction epidemic. Likewise, government funding and support of effective treatment also lags. Meanwhile, most of the heroin is brought in from foreign countries. Afghanistan produces 70% of the poppies which are the raw ingredient used in manufacturing heroin. Besides Afghanistan, smaller quantities of opium are produced in Pakistan, the Golden Triangle region of Southeast Asia (particularly Burma), Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. Ironically, under the Taliban regime Afghanistan’s opium production had dropped by an amazing 94% in the year 2000. One year after American and British troops invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban government heroin production leapt back to its original levels. Again, another clear indication that U.S. drug policy and U.S. foreign policy are not coordinated. What happened in Afghanistan is a stinging example of the United States’ inept handling of drug policy.