LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- It's an addiction that doesn't discriminate and affects people of all walks of life.
Prescription pain killer addiction is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.
As doctors and lawmakers work to stop the problem, some addicts look to more dangerous alternatives.
“Honor roll, played on sports teams, was pretty good at that, all-conference, all-state, and once I found opiates and opiates found me, my life changed,” said Nick Mastowski, a former opiate addict.
He never thought it would happen to him, as a Blytheville baseball star, turned addict.
“The only way I would play would be on pain medication,” said Mastowski, “I was doing anywhere from at least 80 to about 400 milligrams a day.”
Mastowski was injured playing the sport he loved, so doctors put him on Oxycodone to help with the pain, but about a month later when Mastowski's injury healed, doctors took him off the prescription.
“Then I went to, I guess they would call it 'the streets.' I was buying from local drug dealers and sometimes I would drive up to 2-3 hours just to get my drugs.”
Eventually, prescription pain killers stopped being strong enough.
“It doesn't matter what opiate you have access to, you go ahead and get the opiate that gets you the feeling,” said Dr. Michael Mancino, the head of the Center for Addiction Services and Treatment at UAMS.
When doctors stop prescribing prescription painkillers or they become too expensive, addicts turn to a cheaper, easier to access alternative, like heroin.
“I think we're starting to see the first movement of increase of heroin here in Arkansas, that may in 10 years, look like the rest of the nation,” said Mancino.
Mancino says cost plays a big role in the switch to heroin.
He says it costs about $40 - $50 for a 30 milligram per pill and $30 for 300 milligrams of heroin.
“With opiates it builds tolerance, and I wasn't able to receive the same affect with the amount of money I was spending,” said Mastowski.
Mancino says some of the blame for opioid addiction lies in the hands of doctors.
“I think there's no question that physicians play a role in what we call "over-prescribing,” prescribing doses that are too large, prescribing doses that are too many, prescribing for too long a period of time, and not picking up on the red flags that a person may be having a problem with addiction, “ said Mancino.
The state health department agrees.
“The human nature wants to please and doctors want to please their patients and you're going to prescribe and give them what they want and help them with their problem,” said Denise Robertson with the Arkansas Health Department.
Robertson says doctors wouldn't have started over-prescribing if it weren't for false advertising by drug companies.
In the 90s, some manufacturers argued their pain killers were non-addictive.
“That convinced the medical community to prescribe them for chronic pain, instead of just for pain after surgery, cancer pain, or end of life treatment,” said Robertson.
Arkansas' Health Department working to combat over-prescribing with their prescription monitoring program, so doctors can view a patient’s prescription history.
“How many they're getting, how many they've been getting, how have they been using it, have they been going to a few different doctors,” said Robertson.
However, Mancino fears as the state controls prescription drug access, heroin abuse will continue to spike.
“If the addiction is already there, the patient will find the substance that they need,” said Mancino.
Treatment is also an issue. Compared to our neighboring states, Mancino says we have a 10th of the doctors who can legally prescribe treatment medication.
“Tennessee has over 800 doctors that prescribe medication to help with addiction, and in Arkansas we have 65,” said Mancino.
As an addict who survived and recovered, Mastowski wants to help expand the resources for treatment in Arkansas. He is currently working as an addict counselor at Catar Clinic.
“I was able to struggle, make it out on the other side, and if I could just help one person, the way I was helped, that would be worth it,” said Mastowski.
Doctors encourage a 'no drug,’ holistic options to heal pain, whether it's temporary or chronic.
Alternative include massage therapy, physical and chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, exercise and weight loss.