Why is prescription drug use not the number one risk factor for heroin use?
Contrary to popular belief, people who abuse heroin rarely stem from the use of prescription opioid use. Although many doctors claim that prescription opioid use is a precursor to the use of heroin, like what is stated with the latest Politico column in which three activists claimed that heroin addiction stems from opioid over prescription, data actually points to the presence of psychological problems like PTSD, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. In fact, only 5 percent of those who abuse their medication progresses to heroin use, while according to published by the Society for the Study of Addiction, 75 percent of those who abuse heroin also have an associated mental illness.
The data counters the claim that majority of heroin users come from those patients who are prescribed opioids. Not only is this claim inaccurate, it also does a disservice to both heroin users and opioid users since it adds to the stigma of medication use.
If we want to make progress and a dent in illegal drug use, we must be vigilant and accurate with the information we are sharing with the public. The unnecessary fear of prescription drug use makes it harder for those who are in pain to seek proper treatment, while heroin users have their mental illnesses ignored or not prioritized due to the belief that the number one risk factor to their condition is prescription medication.