Why Does a Crackdown on One Drug Lead to a Rise in Another?

Why Does a Crackdown on One Drug Lead to a Rise in Another?

The use and availability of addictive drugs like Xanax responds to the laws of supply and demand

Drug abuse and addiction are pervasive societal problems with multiple contributing factors. In addition to medical and psychological factors, economic forces also play a role. Like other commodities the sale of drugs like Xanax is driven to a large degree by supply and demand. If the supply of a drug is reduced but demand still exists, users will often simply switch their drug of choice to something more easily accessible.

Prescription Painkillers and Heroin

The most recent example of a crackdown in one drug leading to a rise in another began with efforts to address the growing problem of prescription painkiller abuse. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy notes that prescription drug abuse has been labeled an epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many types of prescription products can and are abused, the most problematic have been opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone. A 2014 article in The Washington Post notes that overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have more than tripled in the past two decades.

State and federal agencies have addressed the problem in a variety of ways. There have been efforts to identify and shut down pill mills and attempts to better monitor the flow of opioids through prescription monitoring programs. Efforts have also been made to educate the public about the need to store and dispose of medications properly. Some jurisdictions have installed drop-off locations where unused prescription products can be taken.

Opioid painkillers are designated as such because they bind to opioid receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors affected by drugs derived from the opium poppy such as heroin and morphine. Synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids were developed in an attempt to standardize and improve the medicinal effects of natural opiates. Because they are so similar chemically, it is not a surprise that people who abuse prescription painkillers may also abuse heroin. They may use whichever is cheaper or more easily available.

Evidence indicates that efforts to curb prescription painkiller abuse has led to a rise in the abuse of heroin. A 2013 article in U.S. News and World Report notes that researchers at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute examined the relationship. Washington was among the first states to address the opioid painkiller epidemic and the efforts led to a decrease in the number of people abusing prescription products. At the same time, however, use of heroin increased. Drug tests positive for heroin jumped by 167 percent.

A 2014 article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reported on the changing demographics of heroin users in the United States. The authors concluded that over the past 50 years, the number of non-urban, non-minority users has increased. In an interview about the study, the lead author noted that survey respondents noted that they switched from prescription opioids to heroin primarily because of expense or availability.

Potential Results of Police Crackdowns

In a guide to the benefits and consequences of police crackdowns, the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing notes the following about drug problems:

  • Motivated buyers and sellers can adapt to crackdowns, and users with stronger addictions are less likely to be deterred.
  • Disruptions in the local market are generally not long-lasting and require a period of police maintenance to ensure the market does not re-emerge.
  • Crackdowns can change open drug markets into closed ones and displace them to new locations.
  • Providing adequate treatment services and monitoring drug offenders for sobriety after their convictions are important factors in maximizing benefits of crackdowns.

Addressing Both Supply and Demand for Addictive Drugs

A comprehensive approach to reducing societal drug abuse problems includes focus on both supply and demand. Demand can be reduced through prevention programs and by treating those already suffering from addiction. Addiction treatment, to be maximally effective, should identify and address any co-occurring mental health conditions that may contribute to an individual’s addiction problem.

Addiction has both physical and psychological components. Sometimes if psychological issues are not fully addressed, people recovering from a substance addiction may become addicted, not only to another substance, but to a behavior such as gambling. It is wise for people in recovery and for their friends and family members to be aware of this tendency.

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If you or a loved one suffers from addiction to drugs like Xanax, we can help you find treatment that meets your needs. Our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day, so there’s never a wrong time to call and talk to our compassionate and knowledgeable consultants. We can help you identify and understand your options and can even check your insurance coverage for you if you wish at no cost or obligation. Call now, and begin your journey to freedom.

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