Oxycontin, the New Gateway Drug

RastaBabySometimes a news story piques your interest and you have to dig around a little. On my (ten minute) commute from work the other day, I heard an NPR story about a rise in heroin use sparked by prescription drugs. From meds to needles in 3, 2, 1…

Prescription drugs have long been a cleverly disguised problem, endorsed by the feds, enthusiastically promoted by their manufacturers and embraced by the public. Modern humans trust their doctors and pharmacists with childlike innocence. However, there is mounting evidence that “asking your doctor” may not be the safest path. In fact, your helpful little pain meds may lead you straight into heroin addiction.

Here’s the scene: you have experienced a painful recovery from an ugly mishap or life-saving surgery. Your prescription for Oxycontin is a god-send but sadly, you are left with persistent residual pain. Or, more likely, you are now chemically addicted and your doctor has moved on, denying you further refills. At this point, you will do anything to get another script.

As I dug around, I found one story about a woman who went so far as to have some of her teeth pulled to get more painkillers. Another documents the 5% decrease in emergency room traffic after they began flagging repeat offenders and denying them new prescriptions. Apparently, desperate addicts were showing up with fake symptoms, seeking medication.

But for all these med-dependant folks there is another route, one that is increasingly being explored by oxycontin/oxycodone addicts – heroin. No longer able to afford your med of choice or maybe unable to convince your doctor to continue scrawling their name on that coveted piece of paper, you look for an alternative. At 1/10th the price and readily available without the hassle of faking a migraine in the emergency room or having a molar pulled, heroin is an easy choice.

Alarmingly, heroin deaths are on the rise, tripling in just three years. With the increase is a shift in user profile from fringe to mainstream, young to older. These days police officers, teachers and nurses are showing up at the detox centers. Or on stretchers in the autopsy queue.

How tempting it must be to blame the increase in heroin addiction on the legalization of marijuana. And predictable. Oh, that evil cannabis… On the other side of the fence, studies prove that marijuana “can be effective as a substitute for treating opioid addicts and preventing overdoses.”

After looking at all these stories, one statistic unites them all – both opioid and heroin addiction are on the rise.  You get to decide if there’s a connection. As for me, I’m letting pot off the hook.

NPR: Emergency Rooms Crack Down On Abusers Of Pain Pills
NPR: How Heroin Made Its Way From Rural Mexico To Small-Town America
CNN: Heroin deaths up for 3rd year in a row
Washington Post: The rate of heroin overdose deaths has nearly tripled in just three years
Newsweek: Prescription Drugs Have Pushed Heroin Into the Suburbs
The Independent: Marijuana, heroin and meth spreading into Colorado’s neighboring states after legalisation of cannabis
The Week: Can medical marijuana curb the heroin epidemic?

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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