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Two Of America's Biggest Drug Problems Are Intertwined

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death last weekend has placed a renewed spotlight on the nation's heroin epidemic, a problem that has grown much, much worse in the last decade.

Behind the recent uptick in heroin deaths is a spike in the number of Americans abusing another kind of drug: prescription painkillers, which Hoffman reportedly abused before his problem escalated to include heroin. Dozens of deaths in Pennsylvania, Vermont and elsewhere have been linked to a form of heroin laced with Fentanyl, a particularly potent painkiller. But in many cases, it appears the victims first got hooked on prescription pills only to later switch to heroin for the cheaper high.

"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addictions threaten us," Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin said during his annual address last week. "What started as an OxyContin and prescription drug addiction problem in Vermont has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis."

Opiates like Oxycotin, Vicodin and Percoset have a similar chemical makeup to heroin, and they can also be highly addictive, which has led to an abuse crisis that’s cost the U.S. more than $55 billion in lost economic output in 2009, according to Seeking Alpha. But unlike heroin, they're legal with a prescription and generate billions for the pharmaceutical industry every year.

The link between heroin and painkillers is strong. If you don't believe us, take a look at the facts:

See full-size image here.
Infographic by Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post.

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