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Opiate Addiction Statistics: From Legal to Street

Opiate addiction statistics tell a tragic story. The story is a tale of painkillers prescribed for legitimate reasons, such as chronic pain or relief after surgery, turning into a need that the body must fill or face devastating withdrawal. Besides the problem of withdrawal, the body builds up a tolerance to drugs and needs higher doses to have the same effects. Opiate addiction statistics show that when a prescription runs out and a doctor won’t prescribe any more, then the next resort is to cheaper and readily available street drugs such as heroin or fake prescription painkillers.
Opiate addiction statistics include a 2015 CDC report that “Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. Some of the greatest increases have occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. In particular, heroin use has more than doubled in the past decade among young adults aged 18 to 25 years.” 1

Other opiate addiction statistics

  • Of the 20.5 million Americans age 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin. 2
  • It is estimated that 23% of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction. 3
  • Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. 4
  • 75% of those who began their opioid abuse in the 2000s reported that their first regular opioid was a prescription drug. 5
  • 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.” 5


Opiate addiction statistics are proof of dependence

People like opioid painkillers because they produce euphoria, even for a short time. Due to the ‘high,’ the body gets used to the drug and relies on the drug for the ‘feel-good’ effect. The body stops making its own endorphins – the feel-good hormone. The drugs are habit-forming. And when not taking the drug results in extreme restlessness, pain in muscles and bones, insomnia, vomiting, diarrhea, or cold flashes, people will do anything to get more of the drug.
You know that you or someone you care about is addicted if you see any of these warning signs:

  • Increase use of the drug to get the same effect.
  • Withdraw socially from family and friends.
  • Experience mood swings or energy swings more than ‘normal.’
  • Spend inordinate amounts of time trying to find and get drugs.
  • Neglect work or chores around the house.
  • Become more sensitive and defensive about changing lifestyle.
  • Demonstrate physical signs of addiction such as red eyes, runny nose, coughing, changing eating and/or sleeping patterns, and lack of personal hygiene.


Don’t let yourself or someone you care about become an opiate addiction statistic

Most noteworthy is that opiates don’t cure anything. Even when legally prescribed, the purpose is to help a person deal with or manage pain. When life isn’t the way we want it to be, which is common to many if not most people, taking a drug and finding escape becomes a solution. Other people just go along for the fun at a party to fit in, or they are curious and think there’s no harm in experimenting. As a result, the drug that seems like a solution becomes a terrible problem. It takes strong resolve to resist the drugs in the first place. Once hooked, it is nearly impossible to quit on your own. Medication-assistance can help get the body off of dependence on the illegal or illegally-obtained drugs. It can be life changing. There is hope, even when it seems all is lost.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Signs: Today’s Heroin Epidemic – More People at Risk, Multiple Drugs Abused. MMWR 2015.
2Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/
3National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drug Facts: Heroin. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
4Jones CM. Heroin use and heroin use risk behaviors among nonmedical users of prescription opioid pain relievers – United States, 2002-2004 and 2008-2010. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013 Sep 1;132 (1-2):95-100. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.01.007. Epub 2013 Feb 12.
5Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Surratt HL, Kurtz SP. The changing face of heroin use in the United States: a retrospective analysis of the past 50 years. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(7):821-826 http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1874575

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