High unemployment rates and lack of work for millions of Americans have brought many people into substance abuse. We had a major increase in prescription painkiller abuse after the economic crash in 2007. I am not blaming the epidemic of opiate abuse on the economy, but it has played a role in the opiate abuse going on in our country. Powerful painkillers hit the market in the late 90's and became very popular on the street in the mid 2000's. They became extremely valued by abusers and started to change lives for the worse as more and more people became addicted. Narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin and Roxicodone have helped millions of people with chronic pain, but have also hurt many people to addiction and overdose.
The problem lies in the over-prescribing of these medications by medical doctors. It became common to get a prescription for opiate based medications for common aches and pains. These medications were first formulated to help people who were terminally ill with cancer. As more and more doctors prescribed opiates, other doctors had to keep up. People forget that medicine is a billion dollar industry. There are websites that rate doctors just like there are websites that rate restaurants. If a doctor refuses to prescribe a medication or cuts someone off who they believe does not need the medication, they fear hurting their rating or getting a bad review online could hurt their reputation.
Factor in that rating pain is extremely hard to gauge from a healthcare providers aspect. How can you tell if a patient is being truthful about the pain they are experiencing, if pain can not be scientifically measured? Prescribing medications is "better for business" for doctors than other forms of treatment as the patient needs to continuously see their doctor to renew their prescriptions every month. Remember, being a doctor is a business. Of course a doctors main job is to help their sick patients, but pharmaceutical companies make a bulk of their money from patients who take medication daily. Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars per year researching new medications and their goal is to help find a cure for what they are working on. The problem is most ailments are not cured, but are dependent on monthly prescriptions that the user will use indefinitely.
Government programs such as prescription monitoring programs have cut down on patients “doctor shopping”. These programs have also cut down on the availability of painkillers. Addicts will not stop using because they can not get their pills. Addicts will find another way to get their high and avoid withdrawal. As more and more "pill mills" are shut down like the $500 million dollar operation conducted in NYC, the less pills available on the black market. This drives the $1 average per mg price to climb even higher. When the cost gets too expensive, that's when addicts make the switch from painkillers to heroin.
According to a national survey on drug abuse and health, four out of five new heroin users previously abused prescription painkillers. As numbers of heroin users climbed from 239,000 in 2010 to 335,000 in 2012, abuse of prescription painkillers has dropped from 566,000 in 2010 to 358,000 in 2012. As you can see, the use of heroin and opiate painkillers is directly correlated. When one drops the other increases and vice versa. The two drugs have a lot in common, except their price. As people get hooked on painkillers, they no longer can afford the prices on the street and turn to heroin which is causing a major problem in towns and cities across America.