Of all the prohibited street drugs, heroin arguably carries the most social stigma. People associate heroin with extreme addictive behavior, physical withdrawal, criminal activity, homelessness and other unsavory social consequences.
While addiction can push some people to do terrible things, many people struggling with heroin addiction do so while maintaining the vestiges of a normal life. It is only after a brush with law enforcement that their loved ones ever learn about the double life they’ve led.
The reason that the perception of heroin users doesn’t always align with the reality of who struggles with heroin addiction is that many people who become physically dependent on heroin had no previous experience with drug use. Instead, what they had was a medical issue.
Prescription pain relief starts people on the dangerous path toward heroin
Maybe it was a broken leg after a car crash, or perhaps it was a soft tissue injury due to an athletic training issue. When someone gets hurt badly enough, medical professionals will recommend pain management. That prescription could lead to an addiction.
While correlation doesn’t imply causation, there’s no denying that there’s a strong connection between the medical use of opioid or opiate painkillers and later heroin abuse. A study looking at 10 years of medical information and drug abuse history found that those who use narcotic painkillers prescribed by a doctor are 19 times more likely to use heroin than the average member of the public.
When their prescription ends but dependence on the medication does not, people may start feeding their addiction through the unregulated market. When pain pills are in short supply, people may find themselves with no choice other than to turn to heroin. Given the option between enduring physical withdrawal and moving on to a harder drug, many people eventually feel they have no option but to try heroin.
Those struggling with medical issues need support, not punishment
The modern criminal justice system likes to send a strong message to those who use prohibited substances by levying mandatory jail sentences and other punishments. Instead of helping someone recover from addiction, prison can reinforce an existing drug dependence by emotionally traumatizing someone on top of their existing physical pain.
Fighting back against charges, avoiding incarceration or a criminal record, or even seeking adjudication in drug court could all be options for those facing heroin-related drug charges.