Pills, Heroin and Street Drugs: What you Need to Know

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on May 22nd, 2018 - Last updated: October 22nd, 2018
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Painkillers aren’t Addictive like Heroin, Right?

It seems like it should be clear. Prescription painkillers are something you take for “polite pain,” like for a backache, or post-surgery; many keep them and use them when a shoulder acts up, or to get a little lift to get through the day and push past some mild pain … It gives a burst of energy, it’s fun to clean the house even, and the kids’ clamor is more bearable. Doctors prescribe it. People have it in their medicine cabinets. It’s barely a thought — just part of a well-stocked bathroom. And lots of people have chronic pain of some sort for which they’re prescribed medication. No judgment on any of that. This is all well and good.

Now, cue the mood music. Dun-dun-dun-duhhhhh. Heroin is seen as a street drug that people of the shadows use. Most still believe that only the most desperate, ill and hopeless of mankind shoot heroin into their veins, their torment like Dante’s Circles of Hell. Doomed to repeat the same cycle until death takes them

There are so many misunderstandings in our view of opiate addiction and points of confusion. We have an opioid crisis. People are dying on the streets and in their cars. It’s truly alarming and frightening, but we need to find a clear, evidence-based perspective so we don’t react in panic and can look at things clearly enough to be able to help people.

First, regarding the drugs themselves. Chemically, there’s virtually no difference between unadulterated, pure heroin and prescription painkillers like Oxycodone. They are all opiates, although many painkillers are combined and “packaged” with over-the-counter drugs, which are rough on the liver; for example, Percocet is Oxy with Acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Street pills may not be as advertised or produced to poor standards overseas. Heroin is no more inherently dangerous than any other opiate except its “packaging” is wildly variable in purity and can, of course, be mixed with anything — sugar, talcum powder, baking soda, rat poison, Fentanyl, ketamine. IV administration on the streets has a host of dangers

There are many reasons for use of prescription pain pills. They are prescribed to help people with legitimate pain, of wide varieties. The majority use this class of drugs non-problematically and as prescribed. Some use them “off-label,” and while the illegalities and associated may lead to problems, that’s not necessarily problematic or addictive use. Some do become physically dependent, although this is not a terrifying death sentence as advertised. And last, those with serious addictions have developed a relationship with their drug use where it is over-taking their lives.

People who find themselves addicted to opiates (as with any addiction) may find themselves in desperate trouble. Tragically, many die every day, particularly if they are obtaining their drugs from the streets or if they are mixing opiates with alcohol or other substances, especially tranquilizers.

Just to repeat, the underlying class of drug is the same – they are all opiates — as is any physical cycle of dependence, overall dangers associated with misuse, risks of addiction, etc. And, the approach to recovery is the same as it is for all addictions. Addiction lies in the relationships we develop with these substances and behaviors, not the object of our fixation itself.

What Can I do if I Think I Might Be Addicted?

First, don’t panic! Ask yourself a few questions and start to observe as objectively as you can. Does your doctor routinely refill prescriptions for chronic pain? Do you look longingly at the clock to see if you can take more meds yet? Do you really associate the meds with pain anymore, or is it partly as a mood elevator? Do you worry about your use? Do you find yourself sometimes running short at the end of the month? Have you tried not to take them and found yourself facing uncomfortable symptoms?

If so, it might be good to pay a little bit of attention. You do not have to hit bottom to conquer (or avoid) addiction.

Check out our Life Process Program. It’s a great alternative to residential treatment and you can use it if your issue is with heroin, pain meds, or other substance and behavioral issues. Some people may find they need some help with detox, but our program is a sane, sensible way to approach drug addiction, whether to prescription pain killers or to heroin, if you’re willing and able to take a good look at your own life, what’s important to you, and set some realistic goals to make your life better.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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