More Arizonans Die From Prescription Drugs Than Heroin

By  Stina Sieg
February 06, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Toby Talbot/AP via NPR)
Experts say today's heroin problem can be traced back to the aggressive prescribing of opioid drugs like OxyContin about 15 years ago.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s apparent drug overdose has a lot of people talking about heroin, but the number of deaths from that drug pales in comparison to those from prescription medication, across the country and here in Arizona. Last year, 100 people died from heroin overdoses in Arizona, and 1,000 died from prescription drugs.

State health department Director Will Humble said that kind of comparison is the norm in America. He thinks the average person understands that heroin is a dangerous drug, but Humble said many people do not get that prescribed opioids, like OxyContin, can also be highly addictive and affect the body in a similar way.

" I think there’s some misconception amongst the public that because it has your name on it, or your friend’s name on it or your wife’s name on it, then it must be safe, and nothing is further from the truth," said Humble.  

Humble said prescribed opioids are often necessary for severe pain, but problems can arise when people take the drugs longer than needed or use drugs not prescribed to them. So, the state health department is working with hospitals, pharmacies and doctors to help stem pill abuse. Humble said the U.S. consumes more prescribed opioids than every other country in the world combined.