Here’s How Prescription Pills Turn Chronic Pain Patients Into Heroin Addicts

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Heroin addiction often begins with the medicine cabinet, where people develop a dependency on oxycoton, percocet or another opioid-based painkiller prescribed to treat their condition. But how do patients taking legal medications switch to abusing heroin? According to Dr. Bobby Dey — a retired pain-management specialist — the answer lies in the chemistry of common painkillers like percocet.

“Percocet is 98 percent the same structure as heroin,” he told Civilized. “So once a person is taking opiates, if they violate the agreement they have with their doctor by taking too much, and the doctor has to discharge them as a patient, what they do is they go to the street, where heroin can be purchased very cheap compared to percocets.”

And getting discharged for violating medical agreements is common thanks to a flaw in all opioid-based medications. Regardless of what dose you begin taking, your body will develop a tolerance that requires increased doses over time to achieve the same level of pain relief.

“There are many downsides to opiates, one of them being that people develop a tolerance over time, so you need higher and higher doses over years and years for the treatment of chronic pain,” Dey explained. “If opiates didn’t cause tolerance, we would not be here [in the middle of the opioid epidemic]. If I could give somebody 20 milligrams of Oxycontin a day or four Percocets a day, and ten years later, still be giving them that amount, they would be fine.”

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