Heroin is a dangerously addictive opioid drug with no accepted medical uses. However, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heroin use is less common than other illicit drugs, involving only about 0.1% of the population.
People addicted to opioids are more likely to abuse prescription pain medications than heroin. They often obtain the drugs through diversion from medical sources. More specifically, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, over 53% of people who use prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes obtain them for free from a friend or family member, likely one who had a valid prescription for them. Two prescription opioids frequently diverted for illicit purposes are fentanyl and oxycodone. Both are Schedule II substances subject to strict controls.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug, meaning that it does not come from natural sources. Rather, it is a manmade substance that comes from a laboratory. Between 2016 and 2017, there was a 47% increase in drug deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. Fentanyl is much more potent than either morphine or heroin. This makes it easier to overdose.
Oxycodone is semi-synthetic, meaning that it derives partly from a natural source, in this case a poppy plant component called thebaine. People who abuse oxycodone may swallow the pills whole, inject them after dissolving them in water, inhale the vapors when heating a tablet on foil or sniff the powder after crushing them. Like other opioids, oxycodone can slow down breathing and heart rate to dangerous levels. Along with fentanyl and hydrocodone, oxycodone is among the prescription opioids most often diverted for illicit use.