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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Deadly Misconception: Prescription Opioids Less Dangerous Than Heroin

There exists a deadly misconception that prescription opioids, drugs like OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone), are less dangerous than illegal drugs because they come from a pharmacy. This is a grave miscalculation which has led to countless overdoses among many young adults who abuse prescription opioids. While prescription narcotics will always be dangerous, in many states there is access to the opioid overdose antidote drug naloxone which could save one’s life, provided the drugs are at hand.

A new study has found that many young adults who abuse prescription opioids are not prepared to deal with an overdose scenario, due to the common belief that prescription drugs are less dangerous than heroin, HealthDay reports. The findings come from interviews of 46 young adult New Yorkers that abuse prescription opioids, ages 18 to 32.

“What we found is that when it comes to how to handle an overdose, prescription opioid users who weren’t using drugs for official medical reasons were less savvy than, say, more traditional heroin-using populations,” study author David Frank of the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City told HealthDay. “In fact, they tend to have a pretty severe lack of knowledge and a lot of confusion about it, despite the fact that most have experienced overdoses within their drug-using network.”

Despite the fact that a large percentage of prescription opioid users wind up making the transition to heroin at some point, the study showed that many prescription opioid abusers who have yet to make the jump to heroin consider themselves to be very different from people who use heroin, Frank said.

Almost all the participants either knew someone who had overdosed on prescription opioids, or had overdosed themselves; yet the participants tended to believe:
  • Prescription painkillers are relatively harmless.
  • Prescription painkillers are less addictive than heroin.
  • Prescription painkillers are less likely to cause an overdose.
What’s more, the majority lacked basic knowledge regarding overdose prevention or what to do in the event of an overdose; sadly, most were unaware of the naloxone option, those that were aware of the drug believed that it was difficult to acquire or expensive. The researchers pointed out that in the state of New York naloxone is distributed freely at needle exchange programs and official harm reduction centers.

The study can be viewed in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

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