The Michael Smerconish Program airs weekdays from 9 am – 12 pm ET on SiriusXM POTUS, Ch.  124. 

For maybe a decade, heroin use stayed constant across the United States, according to Dr. Marvin Seppala, Chief Medical Officer at Hazelden Addiction Centers. But starting in the mid ’90s, the “prescription drug crisis” started skyrocketing and the use of opioid pain medications led to increased addiction of both prescription drugs as well as heroin. And the overdose rate started to increase at “exactly the same rate as the increase in subscribing,” he said.

But despite the increase in pain medication, heroin addiction and overdose, all of which recently came to the front of people’s minds with the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, most people know very little about these drugs.

According to Dr. Seppala, about 30 percent of people who try heroin get hooked. “That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s higher than anything else except nicotine [which is] at about 33 percent,” he said. And the risk of overdose amongst users?

“Almost anyone who uses heroin and most people who use prescription pain medication has had at least near overdose experiences and even with that they don’t recognize the extreme nature of this addiction and the danger and risks they’re placing themselves in,” Dr. Seppela said. “They come into our treatment centers usually coerced. They’ve had an intervention, their family said ‘you have to go to treatment’ and they don’t want to be there. And these people are invulnerable, they just don’t see the problem. And part of addiction is fooling the person into thinking they’re just fine.”

And that, according to Dr. Seppela is the scariest and biggest misconception about addiction. It’s the only disease that tells you you’re not sick.

“The most common misconception is ‘I don’t have it.’ Only about 4.5-5 percent of the people in this country with addiction actually recognize they have this disease and that’s just abysmal. We’ve done an inadequate job of informing the public about addiction,” Dr. Seppala said.

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