A image of a needle and white pills

The Heroin/Opioid Epidemic claimed the lives of 42,249 people in 2016 alone. While heroin gets the most media attention, only 15,469 of these deaths were caused by it. The rest were caused by both pharmaceutical prescription painkillers and illicitly produced pharmaceutical fentanyl.

It is also crucial to note that the rise in heroin abuse rates can be tied to the emergence and wide availability of prescription painkiller narcotics that happened starting in the 1990s.

Prescription Drugs and the Heroin Epidemic

The role of prescription painkillers in the Heroin Epidemic can be broken down into two key A man reaches for a bottle of pillsevents. First, the creation of extended-release opioid medications, such as Oxycotin, paved the way for the flooding of the market with opioid medications.

Following aggressive advertisement by pharmaceutical companies that sought to promote the use of opioid medications in non-terminal patients, the numbers of opioid prescriptions written increased exponentially every year.

This increase in opioid medications was then coupled with a declaration by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations that pain should be treated as the fifth vital sign when assessing patients. This resulted in a near doubling of the number of patients reported as using opioid medications for the treatment of pain.

This rise in the availability of high-powered opioid medications would ultimately fuel the rising Heroin Epidemic.

First, a large percentage of patients reported having abused their (legitimate) prescriptions leading to addiction.

Second, the abundance of filled prescriptions led to the greater access of these narcotics to those not prescribed them, such as children/relatives of someone prescribed them. Where heroin rates had been quite low in the previous decades due to the stigma associated with its use, illicit opioid pill use increased dramatically.

True Recovery

A common pattern has thus emerged over the past decade that is seen time and time again. First, prescription painkillers, whether obtained legally or illegally, provide the introduction to opioids. Next, tolerance sets in and the person needs more and more of the prescription painkiller to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

Prescription pills, however, typically cost up to ten times more than a single dose of heroin. Thus, many people eventually make the switch to heroin out of necessity due to its cheapness relative to the cost of prescription pills on the street. While this is not a universal pattern, it is extremely common.

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.


  1. http://drugwarfacts.org/chapter/causes_of_death
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/12/health/opioid-addiction-history/index.html
  3. https://www.clinicaltherapeutics.com/article/S0149-2918(13)01014-X/fulltexthttps://
  4. www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html