The River Source of Arizona Warns of Increased Heroin Use in Response to Recent Prescription Regulations

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The River Source Treatment Center of Arizona is among a growing list of rehab facilities remaining cautious in response to tighter regulations on opioid painkiller prescriptions, warning that restricting the medicine so severely could well lead to a reliance on cheap heroin instead.

Hydrocodone is the current target of federal-level medical enforcement agencies, with new regulations moving the common prescription drug from Schedule III to Schedule II, a far more restrictive classification. Under the new rules, the drug will now only be available with a handwritten prescription from the patient's doctor, which cannot be faxed or called in to a pharmacy. Instead, it must be hand delivered. Additionally, only 30 days' supply may be prescribed at one time with no refills. Patients must see a doctor each time they wish to renew the prescription, and gain a new prescription during that visit.

A potential argument against these regulations is that imposes new costs, both direct and indirect, on consumers. Patients with legitimate pain will now have to pay for monthly doctors' and pharmacy visits, increasing their expenses for medical care. Accordingly, doctors will have to schedule additional appointments to meet this increased demand which could easily result in higher premiums. It is plausible that this combination of factors may drive the cost of prescription painkillers well above the means of many patients, meaning cheaper alternatives suddenly become more attractive.

Most disturbingly, heroin could well become the drug of choice. This powerful opiate has become extraordinarily cheap in recent years, going for as little as $10 per bag in Long Island, NY.

Self-medication is a fact of life for many people unable to afford, in time or money, the onerous demands of traditional and increasingly-regulated medical treatment. The fact is that certain levels of pain can only be effectively treated with opioid and opiate class drugs, and restricting the supply may lead people to turn to heroin as an alternative source. Heroin overdoses are increasingly noted among the elderly, formerly the worst "offenders" of heavy prescription opioid usage.

Speaking via Bloomberg.com, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Jeffrey Reynolds flatly states, “If you shut down the supply and don’t deal with demand, people turn to heroin."

Over six hundred thousand people reported using heroin in a 2012 survey, up drastically from the previous survey in 2007. The rise correlates strongly with increasing concerns over prescription opioid abuse and corresponding tightening of regulations.

Rehab centers such as The River Source understand the abuse of prescription painkillers is a serious issue and deserves critical attention. However, simply tightening down on the supply rather than educating users about the dangers and offering alternatives may not resolve the issue. Indeed, it has clearly resulted in an increased number of patients turning to a cheaper yet drastically more powerful and dangerous alternative treatment. Heroin is even more addictive and potent than hydrocodone - rehab centers across the country warn against reflexively regulating against one problem, only to push people into embracing a far more dangerous one out of restricted access.

The River Source of Arizona approaches addiction treatment as a full healing of the mind, body and spirit. Our drug rehab center's unique, holistic approach has successfully helped countless individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction achieve long term recovery.

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Malissa Stawicki
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