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30 Aug Are Prescription Drugs a New Gateway Drug?


Recent studies have shown that those addicted to injected drugs, such as heroin, oftentimes started out using prescription opioids, or painkillers. Research has found that 4 out of 5 injection drug users abused prescription drugs before switching to heroin. There are many reasons prescription drug abuse leads to addiction to injection street drugs like heroin, but let’s take a look at the biggest contributing factors.

Prescription Painkillers are Addictive

Prescription grade painkillers like oxycodone and morphine are derived from the same opiates as heroin. When taken for a short period of time under the close supervision of a doctor, they can aid in healing by relieving pain,. However, when exposure to these prescription drugs is extended, they can be very addictive substances. The withdrawal symptoms of opioids are more severe than other drugs, and quitting opioids once addicted is very difficult. Out of 75 patients interviewed who were being hospitalized for opioid detox, 31 of them reported they became addicted when using painkillers that were legitimately prescribed to them.

Many times, those using painkillers for legitimate reasons find it difficult to control their usage as their tolerance to the drug builds. As they become more dependent on the drug, users soon find that they are using their prescription medication in a way other than how it was prescribed, which is drug abuse. As their tolerance builds and they need higher doses of the drug, it becomes more expensive and difficult to obtain the necessary amounts. At this point, may users turn to heroin because it is less expensive, easier to obtain, and produces quicker, more dramatic results. In the study above, 92% of patients studied said they turned to heroin use when prescription drugs became too expensive and difficult to obtain.

The Availability Factor

Painkillers are also a dangerous gateway drug because they are so easy for teenagers and adults to obtain. Almost everyone is prescribed prescription painkillers at one time or another. Oftentimes we don’t finish out the prescription, and the extra medication sits forgotten in our cabinet where anyone could find it.

Of the 75 hospital patients mentioned above, an additional 24 of them reported that they abused prescription drugs before turning to heroin, and that they obtained them from a friend or family member who didn’t finish their prescription. In some cases they stole the drugs, and in other cases they were given to them willingly. Keeping old drugs on hand, or giving your unused prescription to someone else, even if they claim they are in pain, only feeds the problem. Sharing prescriptions is illegal, and can put others at risk for addiction.

Environmental Factors

Studies have also shown there are other factors that put a person at risk for prescription drug abuse, and later for abuse of heroin and other injection drugs. Living in a home where abuse of prescription drugs, of alcohol, or of other drugs is seen as acceptable is one of the biggest indicators that a person will abuse prescription drugs. Genetic factors that put a person at higher risk for addiction can make using any amount of prescription painkillers more dangerous.

Many people who abuse prescription painkillers don’t realize their behavior is so risky. If you or someone you know is struggling with prescription drug abuse or heroin use, contact a professional treatment center to learn what you can do to help.

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