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The Relationship Between Heroin & Painkillers

The Relationship Between Heroin & Painkillers

The opioid epidemic has been a prevalent topic on the news for many years.

Several people across the world are misusing prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic opioids. People aren’t just misusing these opioids either; they are becoming addicted to these substances. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million Americans had a substance abuse disorder related to prescription opioids and over 652,000 Americans had a heroin use disorder.1 Worse than just becoming addicted to these drugs, many people are not getting the help they need, and without opioid detox and treatment, they are overdosing. In 2017, opioids were responsible for the overdose deaths of over 47,000 Americans.2 Unfortunately, because of the strong connection between heroin and painkillers, it may take time for these trends to slow down.

The Transition from Painkillers to Heroin

Part of what is fueling the opioid epidemic is the number of people whose misuse of painkillers is turning into a heroin addiction. Prescription pills can act as a gateway drug for heroin abuse. Often, a heroin addiction starts because someone who is addicted to prescription opioids will make the transition to heroin in order to get a stronger and faster high. Both drugs work on the same receptors in the brain and have similar effects, but heroin tends to be more potent. Along with the higher potency, heroin also tends to be cheaper than prescription pills, so it is easier to fuel this addiction than it is to continue the prescription drug abuse. Heroin abuse also eliminates the need for doctor shopping that can be challenging and a hassle.

Research supports this correlation between painkillers and heroin use as well. One study found that 80% of heroin users had misused prescription opioids first.3 While some users may stick to mostly just heroin in order to get their fix, others may still be using both heroin and painkillers to fuel their addiction. Either way, prescription opioids are usually the first to be abused. Of those that have misused both substances within the past year, 77% reported having started with the nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers.3

While many heroin users started out misusing painkillers, not all people on prescription opioids will make this leap. Only about 4 to 6% of people who misuse prescription opioids will transition to heroin abuse.2 Although these numbers don’t seem too high, prescription pill abuse alone is dangerous and can be accompanied with serious side effects. If you have been misusing these drugs, a detox from prescription pills could help you break this addiction and avoid these consequences.

At Banyan Detox Stuart, we want to help defeat the opioid epidemic. With everything from prescription pill to heroin detox in Boston, we can help you or a loved one overcome addiction and avoid being just another statistic.

To get more information about our treatment programs or to talk with an admissions specialist about your situation, reach out to us immediately at 888-280-4763.


  2. NIH - Opioid Overdose Crisis
  3. SAMHSA - Associations of Nonmedical Pain Reliever Use and Initiation of Heroin Use in the United States
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.
The Relationship Between Heroin & Painkillers
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