heroin-overdosesThe over-prescribing of opioids in the United States has had far reaching effects, the sharp rise in prescription opioid addiction being one of them, as well an exponential increase in accidental overdose deaths. In response to what some call a scourge, others an opioid epidemic, measures were taken to make the abuse of prescription narcotics more difficult; such as the creation of prescription drug monitoring systems to curb “doctor shopping,” the closing of pain clinic “pill mills,” and limiting the number of refills a patient can receive before having to return to their doctor.

The efforts of both state and federal agencies has had limited effects on the problem; granted some places are doing better than others as the result of such efforts. While there has been a decrease in prescription drug overdoses, a new government report has shown that an unfortunate byproduct of the government crackdown is that many have turned to heroin to maintain their addiction, resulting in an increase heroin overdoses, USA Today reports.

Prescription painkiller overdose deaths quadrupled between 1999 and 2011, from 4,030 to 16,917, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. In 2012, overdose deaths due to prescription opioids dropped 5 percent to 16,007.

“It’s some really encouraging news after many years of really grim news,” Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), told USA Today.

While a 5 percent decrease is reassuring that the measures taken have been effective, it is difficult to not view them as half-measures considering heroin overdose deaths increased 35 percent from 2011 to 2012, from 4,397 to 5,927.

“My patients tell me that as prescription opioids become less available and more expensive, that heroin has rushed into that breach,” said Mark Publicker, President of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine. “It was as if somebody flipped a switch.”

The ONDCP will release the new findings, according to the article.

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