Can Using Prescription Opioids Lead to a Heroin Addiction?

Addiction Treatment
Jan Trobisch

Jan Trobisch


Your brain cannot tell the difference between prescription opioids and heroin. In fact, two highly addicting prescription painkillers, Percocet and OxyContin, contain oxycodone — a powerful pain reliever that targets and stimulates the same opioid brain receptors targeted by heroin. Even the molecular structure of oxycodone and street-grade heroin are nearly identical. Moreover, the opioid narcotics in painkillers are derived from the opium poppy plant — the same plant drug cartels use to make heroin.

Morphine in Heroin and Painkillers

Morphine is the active ingredient in heroin and painkillers. Unfortunately, the chemical structure of morphine is similar to that of endorphins, or chemicals in the brain that make us feel good naturally when we experience stress or pain. By flooding the spaces between neurons, endorphins prevent neurons from signaling each other. The analgesic effect created by stopping neurons from interacting reduces pain and makes us feel pleasantly drowsy and euphoric. When someone uses heroin or takes painkillers, the morphine found in both of these drugs seeks out endorphin receptors and activates them even more strongly than endorphins do.

Heroin Is Cheap and Easy to Find

Due to the epidemic of prescription painkiller addictions and deaths over the past 20 years, most doctors are not prescribing painkillers as readily as they once did. Unless someone is suffering a chronic and debilitating illness, painkillers are generally not prescribed for an extended period. However, it only takes one 30-day prescription to a morphine-containing painkiller to create an addiction. Consequently, people addicted to painkillers who can no longer get their drug at a pharmacy take to the streets to purchase heroin.

Rapid increases in opium poppy crops in Latin American countries and Afghanistan have helped to fuel the heroin epidemic currently affecting all parts of the US. According to Pentagon officials, Afghanistan produced 5,500 tons of poppy opium in 2013, which supplied nearly 90 percent of the world’s heroin supply.

Yes, Prescription Opioids Can Lead to a Heroin Addiction

Overprescribing of painkillers by well-meaning doctors has, unfortunately, led to a rampant heroin addiction epidemic in the US that shows no signs of decreasing. If you or a loved one is addicted to heroin due to using prescription painkillers they can no longer obtain legally, Synergy Recovery Services can help.

A comprehensive addiction recovery center providing a wide range of compassionate and effective treatment programs, Synergy Recovery Services can help you understand why you became addicted to painkillers and heroin.  In addition, our therapists will show you how to manage psychological and/or physical pain without resorting to prescription painkillers or heroin. Although recovering from an addiction is not easily accomplished, we offer a caring, experienced staff that provides the kind of insight, strength and support you need to successfully complete a prescription painkiller/heroin addiction program at our state-of-the-art facility.

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