The heroin epidemic now threatens almost every state in America. There are few places safe from the impact the addiction to opiates has had on the American people.

The tragedy of the opiate crisis and heroin epidemic is that many good people have become addicted to drugs as a result of legitimate pain or injuries. They were prescribed medications with the knowledge that those same medications could lead to addiction. Then, instead of helping patients adjust and taper down off medications, doctors cut them off from the medications they needed. This action led to many turning to illicit drugs for the pain relief and to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin use is directly linked to opiate abuse

The reality of the heroin misuse is that it primarily stems from the overuse of opiate medications. Prescription opiates — used to help individuals manage pain — are very addictive. Over time, the over-prescription of pain pills led to the misuse of those same medications when the initial doses were no longer enough. Now, heroin feels like the only option for some who are unable to get relief otherwise and who are also addicted to opiates.

How should the U.S. address the opioid epidemic?

The truth is that the majority of people who get caught up in drug abuse don’t want to be addicted to a substance. Some are where they are today because they have horrible withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop. They feel they have no option but to continue taking the very medications they have come to hate.

For people in that situation, it’s more important than ever that the courts and public services work to provide addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services. Putting someone in prison is not enough to help them walk away from drugs for good once they’re hooked.

Another helpful step would be to encourage better pain management options. Finding natural, safe ways to treat pain, as opposed to turning to strong, potentially addictive drugs, could help the public stay free of drug abuse and lower the overall impact of opiates on the public as a whole.

Overall, there needs to be better research into the impact of prescription medications and drugs as a whole on society. When major corporations and pharmaceutical companies encourage the use of drugs, they need to know that it won’t lead to an epidemic later. For people struggling with heroin addiction, more has to be done to help.