I am pretty sure some people – who either ought to know better, or should keep their mouths shut – do not understand the difference between “correlation” and “causation”. And they use this to stir-up hysteria over one thing or another.
This crossed my mind due to 2 articles I read: one was about the DEA’s claim that heroin use is on the rise, and that this is caused by pain medication availability; and the other is an article about Rhode Island’s increase in STDs that are supposedly due to the increase in “hookup” apps like Tinder.
Aside #1: I really don’t understand how my dad could have been the assistant director of the DEA, knowing how opposed he was to the war on drugs. I guess he thought he could change things from the inside. He believed that, basically, all drugs should be legal. And the difference between he and I? He never got fired – a fact that I find astounding even to this day.
So… the first article was called “National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary”. It begins by reporting that deaths due to heroin overdoses tripled from 2010 to 2013 – a total of 8,260 people.
I think it’s horrible and devastating when anyone dies, but let’s put this in perspective. 8,260 people out of how many people in the US? 324,892,909 and counting (“Worldometers Population Live Counter”, 5/27/2015 5:57 PM EST). Although tragic and painfully meaningful to the families and friends of those who passed, this does not indicate an epidemic by any stretch of the imagination.
That’s the first thing that jumped out at me. I wondered how it was that conservatives freak out over this. But, let’s read on…
Aside #2: The DEA report PDF file keeps timing out and resetting. I hope this isn’t a problem for you, too. But now, as I write this and it has timed out for the 3rd time, I have to go to a secondary source, which I hate to do. Sorry.
I am switching to a Rhode Island source, which will dovetail nicely into the article on STDs. Rhode Island seems to have a lot of problems these days!
According the the Providence Journal
“The higher demand for heroin is partly driven by an increase in controlled prescription-drug abuse over the past decade. A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that four out of five recent new heroin users had previously abused prescription pain relievers.” (“DEA Report: Heroin Use, Availability is Climbing”, Lynn Arditi, Providence Journal, 5/22/2015).
First of all, SAMHSA is widely used by rehabs, psych hospitals, and other mental health institutions for material on drugs – it’s a federal agency. They do not have a vested interest in anything but a total ban on drugs, and they make that very clear in the literature they hawk to therapists and others. They oppose legalization of marijuana and they also want to include “marijuana addiction” as a legitimate addiction for which people need treatment.
Because there is a lot of money in drug rehab facilities, and the more people you can diagnose as “addicts”, the more people you can get into rehab (using not only conventional tactics but also the drug diversion programs).
Anyway, I have a few issues with this “pain medication leads to heroin abuse” idea. For one thing, the report often referenced by the good ol’ DEA is a self-report…by heroin users.
This is one study that makes such claims, and it is cited on the webpage National Pain Report (a site that purports to be pro-pain patient but isn’t really):
“Cicero and his colleagues analyzed data gathered from more than 150 drug treatment centers across the United States. More than 9,000 patients dependent on narcotic painkillers, or opioids, completed the surveys from 2010 to 2013. Of those, almost 2,800 reported heroin as their primary drug of abuse.” (“Study Finds Most Heroin Users Start with Painkillers”, Pat Anson, National Pain Report, 5/28/2014).
So, addicts who use heroin are saying they started with painkillers? No, even their own quote which I just cited doesn’t say that. If anything, it says that of the 9,000 opiate addicts (and it doesn’t say which opiates), 2,800 prefer heroin.
That’s all. It does not say that heroin users started with painkillers. Don’t people read??
But yes, I have heard that many, many times as a drug counselor, and I have already written about this in this blog. The “prescriptions lead to heroin” trope. And I have seen no real evidence of it, not in the way the anti-drug people mean, anyway.
“I had a back problem and the doctor prescribed narcotics, then cut me off so I had to turn to heroin.”
“A friend gave me pills and I got addicted.”
And so on and so on. These reports are not reliable, and the reason? Addicts lie. A lot. They will never say, “I love to party and figured I could get high on pills, but they got too expensive so I switched to heroin.”
Or, “I wanted to get high and another addict turned me on to some heroin.”
Many have had no history of pain medication abuse. Many, particularly here in Central PA, have multi-generational heroin addicts in their families. They start, and stay with, heroin.
I have only had one client tell me that the reason she used heroin was that it was fun, and she was also the most successful at getting and staying clean. She was honest, which is the first step an addict needs to take before he/she can stop.
So the DEA trots out that tired old chestnut about painkillers and heroin in order to support its war against pain clinics and pharmacies. And who are the real victims?
The pain patients. Because it is getting harder and harder to get pain medication now.
What people fail to understand, besides that addicts lie, is that just because someone used pain meds earlier in life, and now uses heroin, does not mean one caused the other.
They used to say that about marijuana not too long ago, remember? Heck, they still say that about marijuana here in Central Pa, because there is a heroin problem here and they don’t understand why, or how to treat it. Their solution is to just toss everyone in jail. And then let many plead out to go to rehab. Cha-ching!
The DEA reminds me of a desperate, spurned lover who will do anything to achieve his/her ends. Even when most critically thinking adults read the DEA report, and conclude that the DEA is grasping at straws, it still doesn’t deter them from proclaiming that prescription pain meds are evil and lead to heroin addiction.