Skip to main content

Happy group of young students studying togetherPrescription opiate abuse, as well as heroin abuse, is on the rise. Is one really more dangerous than the other or are both dangerous? Here is a summary breaking down the opiate addiction problem and what can be done about it.

Heroin vs. Prescription Opioid Abuse

Many college students have the viewpoint that prescription opioids are not as harmful as an illegal drug such as heroin. But the truth is, prescription opioid abuse is very dangerous. In fact, the abuse of—and addiction to—opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers is a now a serious global problem. It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide.[1] The consequences of opioid abuse are often devastating. For example, more than half of drug overdose deaths in the United States are caused by prescription drug abuse. This means that more individuals have died from opiate pill abuse than from heroin across the nation.

The Reasons Why Opioid Abuse is a Widespread Problem

There are several factors that have contributed to the current prescription drug abuse problem. While there is no one single reason, some factors include the following: drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, social acceptance of medications, and pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketing opioid medications. While both heroin and prescription opioids can be very harmful to your body, statistically speaking, there are more deaths related to opioid prescriptions than there are from heroin usage. When a prescription opioid—or any illegal drug—is taken with alcohol, the effects are amplified. Instead of feeling just slightly buzzed, the individual maybe come completely incoherent.

The Effects Opiates Have on Your Body

Opiates—whether legal or illegal—have very similar side effects on your body. For example, both heroin and prescription drugs have the following side effects in common: feelings of sleepiness, nausea, euphoria and breathing problems.[2] Prescription opiates often generate the sensations of pain relief and confusion while heroin can cause severe itching and even lead to coma. This may be surprising that the side effects are so similar, but all opiates are derived from the pods of the poppy plant. In many cases, heroin is just a refined form of opium.

In the brain, dopamine and other neurotransmitters send messages by attaching to receptors on nearby cells. The actions of thesegraphic of effects of opiods on the brain neurotransmitters and receptors cause the effects from the drugs to actually alter the chemistry of the brain. When the drug is no longer being taken, the body starts to go into withdrawal.

For both opiate prescriptions and heroin, the symptoms of withdrawal are essentially the same. Some common side effects of withdrawal include: feelings of restlessness or anxiety, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, cramping and vomiting. Individuals often feel very agitated, uncomfortable and experience cravings for more opium-based drugs. In many cases, fear of withdrawal is often a factor as to why some individuals continue their substance abuse.

While withdrawal is often painful, please keep in mind that it is a short-term period that is required when in recovery. If you need help with substance abuse, please call our helpline.

One of the Main Problems is Easy Access to Prescription Opiates

Prescription opiates in general are much easier to attain than heroin. To look at this in proper perspective, more people have used prescription painkillers over the last 60 days (nine million) than people have used heroin at some point in their lives (4.8 million). While heroin use is still a serious problem, prescription opiate abuse is much more wide spread than many realize.

Statistics have shown that in 2013, over 50 percent of those who misused prescription painkillers received them from friends or family members. In many cases, a college-aged student may find a prescription bottle in their parent’s medicine cabinet. Only 22 percent received the prescription directly from a doctor. This is very dangerous because when given drugs from a doctor, your height, weight and side effects are taken into consideration.[3] When a painkiller is given to an individual from a friend or family member, however, none of this information is given any thought.

Help for Addiction

Drug abuse is a very serious matter. More than 47,000 people in America died of drug overdose in 2014.[4] The good news is that drug addiction treatment is available for students to get back on track. If you, or someone you know is struggling with prescription opiate addiction, addiction to illegal drugs or alcohol, help is available.

Call Covenant Hills Treatment Drug and Alcohol Addiction Rehab Treatment specialists 24/7 and a live person will answer your call. 888.758.9677. This is a confidential and free assessment call.



This article is contributed by Foundations Recovery Network.


[1] America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.

[2] Commonly Abused Drug Charts

[3] But Aren’t Prescription Drugs Safe?

[4] Opioids