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Opiate Painkillers: America’s New Gateway Drug



Aid in Recovery - Recovery Blog - Graphic of a man laying down holding a pill in his fingers looking up at the pill. Text om the bottom of the graphic says: Opiate Painkillers: America's New Gateway Drug.

Opiate painkillers may be more of a gateway drug than marijuana. They are easy to get and they are basically legal, right? Even if you are taking them when you don’t have a prescription. That thinking is leading more and more people down a dark path.

One of the most readily available, habit forming drugs used and abused by Americans is marijuana. Weed has long been considered the gateway to more dangerous drugs. After the user tries it a few times, they think it is harmless, so other drugs are probably ok as well. Not to mention the fact that weed relaxes people and often lowers their inhibitions.

But now there seems to be a disturbing trend where addictive opiate painkillers are becoming the gateway to substance abuse and addiction.

Prescription Opiates Leading the Way

“Contrary to everything I was ever taught about drug addiction twenty-five years ago, the opioid analgesics, led by OxyContin, are now the gateway drugs to all other addictive drugs, particularly heroin,” says Jack Carney Sr., Doctor of Social Work. Prescribed by doctors around the nation, opioids are available in pills, liquids, or suckers to take orally. They are also provided by shot, skin patch, and suppository form. They include:

  • morphine
  • fentanyl
  • hydrocodone
  • hydromorphone
  • oxycodone

They are prescribed to reduce moderate to severe chronic pain. This often leads to habit forming addictions, and can even lead to use, and abuse, of other drugs.

Disturbing Facts about Opioids

The CDC also says that individuals who become addicted to opioids usually abuse multiple drugs. From the onset opioid abusers’ second drug of choice has been benzodiazepines like Ativan and Xanax. This class of drugs has sedating, anti-anxiety, and muscle relaxing properties.

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Dangerous Street Drugs

The prescribed opiate painkillers are making their way into street drugs too. Those manufacturing and dealing heroin are cutting their product with fentanyl. Fentanyl, the most powerful opioid analgesic in use today, is 40 to 50 times as potent as heroin. Prince, the pop music star, recently died from an accidental overdose of the fentanyl that he had been prescribed for severe hip pain. Some users know that the heroin has fentanyl, but they think they can handle it. Most are unaware of what they are injecting. Some users also take fentanyl alone thinking it is a different kind of high, one they know. This leads to overdose and often death.

An Opiate Wake-up Call

Much of the illicit fentanyl sold on the streets today is manufactured in China and Mexico and smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico. Among the states hardest hit by street fentanyl is Ohio, which saw a 500 percent increase in fentanyl overdose deaths, 92 to 514, in only one year, from 2013 to 2014. Yet, time and time again, we are told that marijuana is the gateway drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances.” Marijuana use is related to alcohol abuse and nicotine addiction. The government admits, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”

Change the Term, Change the Attitude

With the availability of opioids, it seems that prescribed medications act more like a gateway drug than marijuana does. Personally, I think the definition of gateway drug needs to be rewritten. Why does it say a gateway drug isn’t addicting? While some drugs are not physically addictive, all drugs certainly are habit forming. Yes, most addicts have their drug of choice, but one drug will usually lead to another eventually.

Once we can define a gateway drug, then I believe we can understand its implications better, and be better able to classify drugs as a gateway drug. Right now, there are too many camps defining too many drugs as a gateway drug.

The Washington Post cited a study published in the Journal of School Health in which researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida examined data from 2,800 U.S. high school seniors. They wanted to see which substances typically used first. Of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, researchers found that kids were least likely to start using pot before the others. A flaw of this study is that researchers did not survey on the use of opioids.

Whether alcohol, opioids or marijuana serves as the ‘true gateway drug’ the important factor to note is that all three are already legal, or quickly becoming so. Alcohol is a rite of passage for those who turn 21. Marijuana is legal in eight states, with more states placing legalization on the ballot, including California. Opioids are prescribed — and often over-prescribed — by doctors.

Immediate help for painkiller and alcohol addiction: 800-910-3734

Numbers Don’t Lie

Data shows opioids are quickly becoming America’s drug of choice. With its availability, both on and off the street, prescription drugs — which reserve little attention from government bodies — is likely to be the worst offending gateway drug.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/
http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2016/08/22/america-addiction-primer-war-drugs-opioid-epidemic-iii-iv/


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