Overdose: Inside the Epidemic

Season 15
Episode 1500

A panel of experts discuss the drug epidemic in the U.S., and offer solid, timely information about prevention and treatment.

For many years, Second Opinion has been dedicated to using media to accurately and non-sensationally educate and inform Americans about the growing opioid and heroin epidemic. We built this website so all of the resources are in one place, so you can easily find help for yourself or a loved one.

Just eight weeks after their son Patrick died of a heroin overdose, Mary and Joe Mullin courageously share their story in this one-hour special, Second Opinion—Overdose: Inside the Epidemic. They tell their very personal experience of Patrick’s decline from alcohol and marijuana use, into opioid and heroin addiction.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive, synthetic opioid made from morphine that when used produces an extreme sense of euphoria. Heroin is also cheap compared to prescription opioids, such as  Hydrocodone (brand name, Vicodin), Oxycodone (brand names, OxyContin, Percodan) and Hydromorphone. The misuse of prescription pain medications is the biggest predictor for starting to use heroin.

Heroin-Related Overdose Deaths

As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths:

·         Heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010.

·         From 2014 to 2015, heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6%, with nearly 13,000 people dying in 2015.

·         In 2015, males aged 25-44 had the highest heroin death rate at 13.2 per 100,000, which was an increase of 22.2% from 2014.

Source: CDC

Risk Factors

Past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for starting heroin use – especially among people who became dependent upon or abused prescription opioids in the past year. This indicates that the transition from prescription opioid non-medical use to heroin use may be part of the progression to addiction.

·         More than nine in 10 people who used heroin also used at least one other drug.

·         Among new heroin users, approximately three out of four report having abused prescription opioids prior to using heroin.

Increased availability, relatively low price (compared to prescription opioids), and high purity of heroin in the U.S. also have been identified as possible factors in the rising rate of heroin use. According to data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the amounts of heroin confiscated each year at the southwest border of the United States were approximately ≤500 kg during 2000–2008. This amount quadrupled to 2,196 kg in 2013.

Do you know the signs of addiction?

There are no blood, urine or tissue tests that alone diagnose the disease of addiction. It is diagnosed by a person’s behavioral symptoms, which include continued, compulsive use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs or other compulsive behaviors in spite of damaging health and social consequences.

Talk to a health care provider if you experienced two or more of these symptoms in the last year:

  • Often taking more of the substance for a longer period than intended
  • Ongoing desire or unsuccessful efforts to reduce use
  • Great deal of time spent to obtain, use or recover from substance
  • Craving the substance
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work, home or school as a result of continued use
  • Continued use despite ongoing social or relationship problems caused or worsened by use
  • Giving up or reducing social, occupational or recreational activities because of use
  • Repeated use in physically dangerous situations (like drinking or using other drugs while driving, or smoking in bed)
  • Continued use despite ongoing physical or mental health problems caused or worsened by use
  • Developing tolerance (feeling less effect from the substance with continued use)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after reducing use (symptoms vary by substance). Withdrawal does not happen with all substances; examples include inhalants and hallucinogen

Source: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

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What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs

  1. Does the person take the drug in larger amounts or for longer than intended?
  2. Do they want to cut down or stop using the drug but can’t?
  3. Do they spend a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from  the drug?
  4. Do they have cravings and urges to use the drug?
  5. Are they unable to manage responsibilities at  work, home, or school because of drug use?
  6. Do they continue to use a drug, even when it causes problems in relationships?
  7. Do they give up important social, recreational, or work-related activities because of drug use?
  8. Do they use drugs again and again, even when it puts them in danger?
  9. Do they continue to use, even while knowing that a physical or mental problem could have been caused or made worse by the drug?
  10. Do they take more of the drug to get the wanted effect?
  11. Have they developed withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the drug? (Some withdrawal symptoms can be obvious, but others can be more subtle—like irritability or nervousness.)

If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, your friend or loved one might have a substance abuse problem. In the most severe cases, it is called an addiction. It can happen to people from all backgrounds, rich or poor, and it can happen at any age.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Learn More

General information about addiction

An overview of heroin from NIH’s National Institute of Drug Abuse

Drug overdose information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse—Presented by presented by Nora D. Volkow, M.D. to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control



Wolk Foundation

Additional funding provided by the Louis S. and Molly B. Wolk Foundation.
Committed to the health and well-being of the Rochester, New York, community since 1982.


Addressing America's Opioid Epidemic
As the healthcare partner to 1 in 3 Americans, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) companies stand committed to our members, our communities and to fighting America's opioid crisis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC is one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services.
ROCovery Fitness
ROCovery Fitness is a supportive community of physically active individuals brought together by sober living, committed to creating an environment of healing and recovery.
Catholic Family Center
Catholic Family Center’s drug treatment services are designed to empower individuals and families affected by drug and alcohol addiction to overcome obstacles, increase dignity, develop skills to achieve independence and self-sufficiency, and achieve a drug-free lifestyle.
Recovery Support Navigators
The Recovery Support Navigator service provides family-focused (or other loved one focused) services designed to guide, educate, and support families through the treatment and recovery process through peer and family support.
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