Connection Between Heroin and Opioid Pain Pills

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With the opioid epidemic striking the United States, you have probably heard about opiates, opioids, heroin, and prescription pain pills at some point on the news.

While all of these drugs are contributing to the opioid crisis, it can be difficult to keep them straight and to understand exactly how they are connected. Luckily our Chicago drug rehab is here to help you differentiate between heroin and prescription pain pills as well as how the two are connected.

Heroin Versus Prescription Pain Pills

Heroin and prescription pain pills both fall under the class of drugs called opioids that are made from the opium plant. The primary use of opioids is to reduce pain, but these drugs can also be highly addictive.

While some countries use heroin as a pain reliever, it is an illegal drug in the United States. Heroin usually comes in the form of a powder that is either white or brown. People will typically snort or inject it, but heroin can also be smoked. People will use heroin for its euphoric effects, but long-term use can lead to various health complications.

Unlike heroin, prescription pain pills are legal but that doesn’t mean they are not readily abused. Some commonly abused prescription pain pills include morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, and fentanyl. People may receive this medication to help with pain after a surgery or serious injury, but then eventually become addicted. This medication is typically taken orally but sometimes people will crush the pills and inject them as well.

Both heroin and prescription pain relievers are highly addicting and can lead to overdose deaths. Out of the 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015 in the United States, it is estimated that 20,101 of these were related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 were related to heroin.1 Both of these staggering numbers are a good indication showing why people are so concerned with the opioid crisis in this country.

More than the fact that both are opioids, heroin and prescription pain pills also have another scary connection. Research has shown that in 2008 and 2009, 89% of heroin users had abused opioid pain relievers prior to turning to heroin.2 This information suggests that someone who started with a prescription for pain killers for chronic back pain could have eventually advanced into heroin addiction. This directionality appears to be a development from more recent years as well. Of the people who abused opioids in the 1960s and entered into a heroin treatment center, 80% claimed to have started their opiate addiction with heroin, but in the 2000s this same population reported starting with their addiction by abusing a prescription opioid.2

If you or your loved one is looking for a partial hospitalization program in Chicago or other addiction treatment options, reach out to us immediately. You want to start your journey to sobriety sooner rather than later.

When you call 888-280-4763, we will walk you through the process and help you begin again.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse – Drug Facts- Heroin
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse – Prescription Opioids and Heroin

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Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.