The first time I heard there was a pharmaceutical version of heroin, I was pretty sure the person telling me so was exaggerating at least a little. Heroin has always gotten such a bad rap, for being so addictive and notorious for turning the people who use it regularly into junkies; even if they have a medical version of it, they must use it super sparingly.
Maybe so, back in the days when I first heard about it. Back then folks likened morphine to heroin, and rightfully so. The two are slightly different when outside the human body, but they become the same thing once they get in there. The dosage has to be adjusted, since heroin is about three times stronger than morphine; but the effects are virtually indistinguishable after that.
Perhaps we should clear up one common misconception, before we go any further. Most heroin overdoses happen because the substance is illegal. Criminals often look to get the most bang from their bag, and tend to mix all kinds of stuff with heroin to make the bag bigger. Whether they use crushed vitamins or something else to fluff it up, the stuff they put in there that isn’t heroin is referred to as ‘cut’. The users in a given area get accustomed to their dealer cutting their product, and they adjust their dosage accordingly.
Then a pure batch hits the streets, and they don’t adjust to account for it. They take as much of the pure stuff as they did the cut product, and that results in an overdose. If this was a controlled substance, it would radically reduce the number of overdoses. It’s the inconsistent strengths people buy on the street that causes most heroin overdoses, and that variable could be eliminated by making it legal. Although personal responsibility plays a part, as it does with any aspect of life, we still need to take into consideration how the deck is stacked against any group being told what they can and can’t do by the government.
Even heroin users. They’re people too, after all. Not only that, their numbers are increasing due to more availability of prescription drugs that can be likened to heroin. Regular people who never had a hankering to shoot up before are taking it up in alarming numbers, due to more circumstances created by the powers that be. It’s not uncommon for a minor injury to warrant a prescription for these drugs, and many of those prescriptions last just long enough to cause physical addiction. When the prescription runs out, the addiction is still there; so these folks hit the streets, looking for heroin.
That is, if the pills don’t kill them first. Anyone who knows anything about drug use knows they don’t have the same effect the tenth time as they did the first time. An increased dosage is required to reach the desired effect, whether the desired effect is a nice buzz or pain relief or getting blasted out of your mind. Although tolerances increase as the effect decreases, there are other factors at play here as well. See, the medical field has their own kind of cut, and it makes it into nearly every pain reliever on the market.
We won’t get into the dangers of acetaminophen here, or how it is really what’s behind nearly all these deaths we keep seeing from pain relievers; just know that it is a low grade pain medication that has tons of ill effects, and that it is put in nearly every over- and under-the-counter pain relief drug. It is added despite these horrible long term effects, and despite the fact that it is not necessary when you have an opium derivative already in there. As mentioned previously, the pain killing effects are pretty low grade.
That’s where all these medications come from, either a natural or synthetic version of opium. The synthetic version of an opiate is specifically referred to as an ‘opioid’, but the category includes both natural and synthetic expressions of these powerful pain relievers. Each is uniquely formulated to last longer or deliver faster results or compound its results over time, but they all pretty much do the same thing. They relieve pain, for acute or chronic sufferers. That’s all well and good when the pain doesn’t last long enough to get the patient hooked, but that means we have some real issues on our hands.
People who suffer from chronic pain need a better alternative, for one. Jumping from one version of opium to another doesn’t stop them from getting addicted, and that addiction often leads right back to the heroin we were talking about earlier. When the effects wear off, or the prescription ends, these folks move on to the street stuff more often than you might think. It’s hard to imagine the landscape of addiction from the outside, but they wouldn’t have a word for it if it wasn’t real. At this point the addict doesn’t have a choice in the matter, and heroin use has become immensely more popular among the middle and upper class as a result.
Even acute suffering should only be addressed with such strong stuff in extreme cases. Gritting your teeth through a little physical pain might be the better choice than getting strung out on heroin, and that is where this path all too often leads. Most of us were freaked out to hear that this pain reliever or that pain reliever was ten or twenty or thirty times more potent than heroin, but the most recent among the usual suspects already has a pretty grim track record. You can talk all you want about Vicodin or Oxycontin or Dilaudid, but none of them come close to the drugs like Duragesic and Sublimaze.
Yes, those should all be capitalized. They’re brand names, after all.
They fall into different categories, the last being the scariest. Those drugs contain fentanyl. They are estimated to be fifty to one hundred times stronger than heroin, and they are highly addictive. The habit forms in about eight days in most people, which is pretty fast; but that’s not the most alarming part of the role these drugs are playing in opiate addiction. The most common length of time doctors are prescribing these drugs for in America is twelve days. Although they know how long it takes to become habit-forming, doctors are actually writing most of these scrips to extend four days past that mark.
Either I’m really bad at math, or doctors are prescribing addiction.
It’s tempting at this point to look at why New Zealand and the United States are the only countries that allow drug companies to advertise directly to patients, or how the government here couldn’t afford to cover our health care longterm because of the way the system is set up; but I promised I would turn my attention elsewhere, so we’ll put those in the queue for later.
Now might be a good time to consider that Christmas is close, and my wedding is even closer. That seems like as good a reason as any to lighten things up a bit, and have a little look inward instead of outward. Next week we’ll be looking at the way we are told that we think, and just how efficient our organic information processors really are. The only finger pointed next week will be at the brain, in a post we’ll call…
‘Maybe we think too much!’
I hope you come back for it, and that you enjoyed this week’s post!
Thanks for reading!
All the best,