Weather Forecast


Prescription painkillers can lead to addiction

Heroin is becoming a primary drug of choice in the Hudson area based on the clients they are seeing at Programs for Change, the drug treatment program for Hudson Hospital and Clinic.

Pete VanDusartz is the program's director and counseling and social services manager. He says there are three tracks that lead people to addiction to heroin.

The first are those people who come across it while experimenting with drugs in general. They try it, like it and become addicted.

People can become addicted to opium-based pain drugs that they get through a variety of ways, drugs like Oxycodone and Vicodin. "After a while, they turn to heroin which they find cheaper and sometimes easier to buy than the painkillers."

The third track to heroin addiction, according to VanDusartz, involves those people who were legitimately prescribed these medications to address their pain but as their use and dependency increases, and their access to prescribed medications is cut off, they turn to heroin which is easy to access and cheaper than buying the pain pills.

"Let's be clear about it. Today the image isn't necessarily people shooting it into their arms but the severity of the addiction, whether they smoke it or ingest it, is the same."

VanDusartz said the big risk when it comes to heroin is that the body almost immediately begins to build up a tolerance for the drug, which leads to increased use at higher doses. "Users can overdose without realizing that risk. An overdose with other drugs, like meth, is serious but a user can survive it. With heroin, the body's organs -- everything shuts down and it can kill you."

VanDusartz said that the problem with the popular pain medications is that the addiction is not just physical. They first have a powerful effect on emotions and mood. "That's where the dependency builds. It initially reduces anxiety and stress, helps people sleep. You feel good. It gets woven into the fabric of a person's life. They first rely on it for the way it makes them feel. The physical addiction follows."

The treatment at Programs for Change addresses both elements of addiction, helping people replace the effects of the drug with healthy ways to address their emotional and physical needs.

Programs for Change recently marked 25 years of providing treatment for alcohol and substance abuse. For more information about Programs for Change contact VanDusartz at (715) 531-6752 or go online to and click on hospital and clinic care.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604