heroinMuch of Colorado’s attention, where it comes to drug use, has been focused on marijuana and the repercussions of its legalization. However, there is a more pressing, more fatal drug issue which is being pushed to the side.

Two of the leading causes of death in Colorado are heroin abuse and prescription drug abuse. Though neither is a good choice, prescription drugs are a marginally safer option for a drug user.

The abuse of medical drugs has been something of an issue since the government started regulating drugs in the 1960s and 1970s. The war on drugs officially started in 1971 when President Nixon declared it as a government policy. The federal government created strict policies against the abuse of drugs and has been implementing them ever since, but have never been able to shut down the rich illegal marketplace.

However, prescription drugs are now more expensive on the street than heroin, so addicts are moving away from the former and embracing heroin with reckless abandon.


Many pain pills are in the class of opioids, which means that they’re derived from the poppy just as heroin is. Opioid narcotics and heroin both target the same nerves within the nervous system. Opioids are used to suppress pain, where heroin is used to create the “high” feeling it’s known for. However, both can be equally addictive.

Because they both bond to opioid receptors (the nerves mentioned above), to a certain degree one can substitute for another and stave off withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it stands to reason that if an addict is having a hard time financing his addiction to a prescription pill, he may feel that heroin is a “good enough” substitute at a lower cost. (One dose of heroin ranges from $10 to $25. Stolen medications, on the other hand, can range from $5 to as much as $50 per pill.)

Some more well known prescription opioids are codeine, Vicodin, Lortab, Dilaudid, Demerol, Percocet and oxycodone/OdyContin. These are routinely prescribed to patients after surgeries or major medical procedures, and patients aren’t always warned of exactly what they’re putting into their bodies. However, prescription pill addicts frequently seek out patients like this and offer to buy their pills.

Denver Health, a major medical facility in Colorado which provides health care to all regardless of their ability to pay, says that it regularly treats as many heroin overdoses as pain killer overdoses. In either case the patient can stop breathing and lose consciousness, requiring swift treatment lest the patient die.

In Colorado treatment centers, heroin and opioid treatment admissions are both up a percentage point from 2011 to 2012. Colorado has about five million residents, which means an additional fifty thousand Coloradans have entered treatment in each category.


Why is heroin so cheap in Colorado? The answer isn’t totally clear, though it is generally cheaper in urban areas where the supply is higher. Part of the answer lies in the fact that globally, the price of heroin has been going down as the world’s supply has increased over the past few years.

One major reason for the increase in supply is the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. The Afghan insurgency and the regional drug traffickers have formed an alliance with each other, in which the insurgents protect the poppy farmers and traffickers, and the farmers and traffickers provide weapons and cash to the insurgency.

As a result of this alliance, Afghanistan’s heroin production increased by 49% from 2012 to 2013. In 2014, Afghanistan produced about 90% of the world’s opium supply. Having so much heroin available has meant a reduction in costs worldwide.

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