Addicted Oklahoma: The Other Drugs
Prescriptions opioids, or prescription painkillers are hooking Oklahomans. Now, that addiction is leading down a dark and sometimes even more dangerous path; heroin addiction.
"One thing leads to another then you're doing other prescription pills which you really don't need but you tell yourself you do because the Xanax isn't working anymore."
Truly Nash tells us she first started using prescription drugs when she was in high school. Today, she's 24-years-old, and recovering from her addiction. But, for six years, her life was a downward spiral.
"Then you're doing heroin like I was and it all started from a prescription pill. You're sick all of the time without it and it's crazy to think it all started from a prescription pill," Nash said.
Heroin offers a similar high, and is sometimes cheaper and easier to come by.
"Heroin has become very cheap, it's easy to get," says Verna Foust with Red Rock Behavioral Health.
"You think it's cheaper you think it's better you think it's going to help you more and then you're stuck doing it," adds Nash.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Prescription opioid pain medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin, can have effects similar to heroin when taken in ways other than prescribed. They also say nearly half of young people who inject heroin, according to three recent studies, report abusing prescription opioids before switching to heroin.
Here in Oklahoma, the numbers of addicts switching to heroin are high, but according Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward, not quite as high as on the East Coast. Still, they say it's reason for concern.
"They've got an addiction and a sickness and if they don't get the drug then they are going to get very very sick. That's why people who are doctors lawyers and professionals are switching to the streets," Woodward said.
New guidelines are making prescription pills harder and harder to get. Oklahoma now has what's called the Prescription Monitoring Program, or "PMP." This new system has been put in place to prevent prescription fraud in the state. Dispensers are required to submit controlled substance prescription information directly to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics within minutes of dispensing a prescription to a patient.
While OBN tells us this is helping to curb prescription drug abuse, addicts are turning elsewhere.
"A lot of these drug addicts are being denied their pain medicine and a lot of doctors are not prescribing the way they used to and so that person may still have an opioid addiction but if they can't get painkillers they're now turning to the streets," Woodward said.
"So you take a population that's ready addicted to opiates and when they can't get it they're not just going to stop, they have an addiction that they're going to go look for it somewhere else," Foust said.
Now, OBN says Mexico is bringing larger amounts of heroin into the United States, and because of that increase, the price for heroin is getting even cheaper.
"As a response, the Mexican cartels are stepping in to fill that void. We've always had Mexican heroin coming in or Nigerian heroin but it wasn't in great demand." Woodward said. "It really won't make any difference to an addict. They will on any given night go for what they can. They won't switch from heroin to prescription drugs or prescription to heroin. If they can get prescription drugs tonight that's what they'll take if they can't they will go on the streets and get heroin."
Heroin abuse is extremely dangerous, and can have devastating consequences. Those include a fatal overdose, terminated pregnancy, infectious diseases like Hepatitis and HIV. Chronic users can develop collapsed veins, infections of the heart lining and valves, liver of kidney disease. Street heroin also can contain toxic chemicals, that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys and brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs.