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Connection Between Heroin and Opioid Pain Pills

Connection Between Heroin and Opioid Pain Pills

With the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on the United States for the past several years, you have probably heard talk about heroin and prescription drugs at some point on the news.

Although one is given by a doctor and the other is sold illegally on the street, the two are not as different as you may believe. In fact, they are connected in more ways that one. To clear up the confusion, our Chicago drug rehab is explaining what you need to know about the relationship between prescription opioids and heroin as well as why they are more similar than they seem.

The Difference Between Prescription Opiates & Heroin

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic opioids. Opiates specifically refer to naturally derived opioids such as morphine, codeine, and heroin. All these drugs are derived from or designed to mimic the effects of the opium plant. Their primary use is to reduce pain.

The biggest difference between prescription opioids and heroin is their legality and strength. Prescription opioids are readily used by doctors to treat pain in patients. They are given out after surgery to ease recovery or handed out for more regular use for people with chronic pain. They typically come in pill form, but they can be crushed to be snorted or administered intravenously if abused. Although they can be addictive, a lot of prescription opioid users take these medications responsibly.

On the other hand, heroin is illegal in the United States, but that doesn’t stop people from buying it on the streets. It also tends to be more potent than prescription opioids, which is part of the reason it is more dangerous. Heroin usually comes in the form of a powder that is either white or brown. People will typically snort or inject it, but heroin can be smoked as well. People using heroin do so recreationally for its euphoric effects, but long-term use can lead to various health complications.

The Dangerous Relationship Between Heroin and Prescription Opiates

  Although one is prescribed by a doctor and the other is sold illegally, both of theses drugs can be highly addictive. People may be prescribed painkillers following a painful injury, but if they begin to misuse their medication and not take it as prescribed, they may eventually become addicted. Some commonly abused prescription pain pills include morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. When someone becomes addicted to these medications and doesn’t get prescription pill addiction treatment to stop, things may take a turn for the worst.

The most alarming connection between prescription opioids and heroin is that prescription opioid abuse is now often a precursor for heroin abuse. In 2008 and 2009, a survey found that 89% of heroin users had abused opioid pain relievers prior to turning to heroin.1 This trend is a shift from the past. In the 1960s, a study of people getting heroin treatment who were also abusing other opioids, found that 80% started by abusing heroin.1 Forty years later, the same population was surveyed, but this time 75% reported abusing prescription opioids first.1

Regardless of the directionality, there is an obvious connection between heroin and opioids prescribed by doctors. Both are opioids, both activate the same brain receptors, and both can be highly addictive. The most concerning part is that an addiction to opioids of any kind can quickly turn deadly.  Out of the 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015 in the United States, it is estimated that 20,101 of these were related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 were related to heroin.2

If you or your loved one is looking for opioid addiction treatment, stop waiting to get help. Reach out to us immediately. You want to start your journey to sobriety sooner rather than later to avoid the dangerous consequences associated with this type of drug abuse.

When you call 888-280-4763, we will answer your questions and walk you through the admissions process.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse – Prescription Opioids and Heroin
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse – Drug Facts- Heroin
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.