Heroin replacing painkiller use in Houston

The flow of painkillers onto the Houston streets has been choked off by the DEA, driving up prices. But we're flooded with cheaper and more abundant heroin, so users are making the easy decision to switch over, more and more often.
Jared Rosenthal
Published on

Apparently, it has been a lot easier, and cheaper, to buy black market prescription opiates in Houston than in other major cities. That strange fact, until recently, has slowed the rise in heroin use in Harris County. Now, that containment dynamic has ended, with Houston area hospitals reporting rapid increases in ER visits and overdose deaths from heroin.

But first, a step back. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a pretty clear trend these days that leads average, every day, otherwise “normal” people into heroin addiction. It goes like this:

1) get a toothache –> dentist prescribes Vicodin
2) the painkillers run out –> seek them out on the street
3) opiate addiction follows –> seek out heroin because it’s cheaper.

So, as long as painkillers remain plentiful and inexpensive, heroin use is contained. However, pill addiction is quite lethal in it’s own right, and the DEA is doing everything in it’s power to reduce their availability in Harris County. Ironically, success on that front plays right into the hands of heroin dealers, and drives other dangers that don’t exist with pills.

How do prescription opiates get on the streets?

Unlike heroin, which is manufactured abroad and smuggled into town, pills like Oxycodone and Oxycontin get into the hands of dealers via licensed doctors. It goes something like this:

1) someone goes to the doctor and fakes an ailment –> the doctor winks and prescribes medication.
2) person fills prescription –> then sells it to a dealer
3) dealer sells it on the street.

Pretty straightforward. But, the party is coming to an end. The Drug Enforcement Agency is getting more and more successful at prosecuting doctors and pharmacists who don’t adequately screen patients for pain, or who overprescribe narcotics. Prices on the streets are starting to rise, pushing more and more addicts to heroin. Simultaneously, the supply of heroin is growing, and it’s prices are dropping. It’s a perfect storm.

Nevertheless, this is not the heroin we knew in the 80’s, when scores of homeless men died on the streets or got HIV from sharing dirty needles. This time around, it pervades virtually every community, and often goes undetected by family and friends. A perfect example was the death last year of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was functional and led a relatively normal and public life until he overdosed.

I think it’s fair to say that opiate abuse is among the hardest drug addictions to detect among friends and family, even including heroin. But if you do suspect someone in your inner circle is using opiates, it is vital to intervene. A drug test is often a vital part of that process, because a positive test forces the user to abruptly end the vicious cycle of denial. Health Street has 18 clinics that perform Drug Testing and DNA Testing in Houston; call us at (832) 900-7610 or (713) 422-2199 to make an appointment at any one of our clinics. We also have locations throughout the suburbs.

WRITTEN BY

Jared is the Founder of Health Street, the creator of the Who's Your Daddy DNA truck, and the host of VH1's Swab Stories.

WRITTEN BY

Jared is the Founder of Health Street, the creator of the Who's Your Daddy DNA truck, and the host of VH1's Swab Stories.

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Drug Testing

Read Health Street's dramatic and informative drug testing stories.