The Stigma of Opioid Dependence & Heroin Addiction: Medical Conditions or Behavior Choices?
The opioid epidemic is at an all-time high, as rates of opioid abuse continue to rise in alarming numbers. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 130 people a day die in the United States as a result of opioid abuse. State and federal governments are desperately trying to curb these statistics. However, lax prescription opioid policies along with medical professionals – who have little training in how to wean patients from prescription opioids – only add to the misuse fuel. Additionally, there seems to be a difference in the stigma of opioid dependence when compared to the stigma of heroin addiction.
Opioid dependence still carries less stigmatism as it most likely originated as a problem of legal opioid prescribing practices, and is often considered a medical issue. On the other hand, many consider heroin addiction more of a ‘drug’ issue and is believed to be ranked higher on the ‘criminal activity scale,’ in that its illegal use does not initially stem from prescription drug use.
Opioid Dependence Or Heroin Addiction: Different Drugs, Same Danger
Or does it? Research suggests that about 80% of people who use heroin first misused opioids they were legally prescribed. And, while statistics about drug misuse often group opioids and opiates together, there is a subtle difference. Opiates, like heroin, are naturally derived drugs that come from the poppy seed. Opioids are drugs that can be natural or synthetic and that bind to your brain’s receptors. These receptors are the parts of the brain that control your pain levels, as well as are responsible for your ‘reward’ and ‘pleasure’ centers. Popular synthetic opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone, as well as methadone and fentanyl, are most often the ones initially prescribed for pain, whereas the opiate heroin is never prescribed for pain relief.
Because prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone are initially prescribed for pain, many view them as ‘safer’ because they’re being used in the context of medical treatment and under the care of a licensed prescribing physician.
But that’s precisely how the danger and difference between the stigma of opioid dependence and the stigma of heroin addiction begin. Dr. Travis Rieder is a Research Scholar at the Berman Institute of Bioethics and a Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Public Health Advocacy with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Speaking from his own experience, Dr. Rieder says that a lot of doctors simply don’t know how to transition a patient on prescription opioids off of them for good. They’re medically necessary to battle pain and prescribed to do so, but typically doctors do not get a lot of pain education in medical school. This means there is a considerable gap for doctors’ knowledge of how to prescribe to patients and how to help wean them from them.
The stigma of opioid dependence often drives those who misuse opioids to do so in secret, not seeking help that rehabilitation programs like Springboard Recovery. As well, because heroin is often easier to find than oxycodone or hydrocodone (and less expensive), they turn to and become dependent on heroin and may eventually become addicted.
Because the demographics of those who abuse prescription opioids are often different, there are various stigmas attached as well. The stigma of opioid dependence typically is one that associates the relationship solely as a medical issue, with the origination of the dependence coming from medical professionals. Many (falsely) associate heroin primarily as a cheap and dirty street drug found in lower-income urban neighborhoods. This is one reason why society treats opioid dependence like a medical condition and heroin misuse solely as criminal activity. Dr. Caleb Alexander is a pharmacoepidemiologist and the Co-Director for The Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins University. He says that while there is little difference in the chemical structure of heroin or oxycontin, the way they are viewed by public policy is quite different.
This may be why so many still view prescription opioids as safer than heroin. The legality of prescription opioids gives the false security that they’re not as dangerous as illegal opiates like heroin, but the reality is that they are both just as devastatingly dangerous. And because society places stigmas on drug dependence and addiction, all too often, individuals don’t seek the help they desperately need.
Springboard Recovery Tackles Stigmas
The caring and compassionate clinical professionals at Springboard Recovery know that the stigma of opioid dependence and the stigma of heroin addiction may be viewed differently, but to them, they’re both issues they want to help you tackle. While society may sometimes treat opioid abuse differently than heroin abuse, the staff at Springboard Recovery understands the way prescription medications and illegal drugs affect certain regions of the brain are quite similar, and they’re trained to help you detox and develop strategies that will help you deal with your cravings and stay drug-free. They offer group and individual therapies that can help you rebuild your relationships with your family and friends. They do so in a premier residential facility that gives you round the clock support and community.
If you’ve been struggling with dependence on opioid drugs or heroin addiction, there is hope. Contact Springboard Recovery today and start living the life you were meant to live.