Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Prescription Painkillers: The Gateway Drug for Young Adults?

No longer is marijuana considered the gateway drug responsible for helping teens bridge the gap between experimentation with alcohol to hardcore use of needles and dangerous street drugs. Today’s gateway substance, says The Fix, could be prescription painkillers, because they are the number one reason for a recent resurgence in the numbers of teens addicted to heroin.

From Prescription Painkillers to Heroin?

About a decade ago, prescription painkillers began to be prescribed with increasing frequency for acute pain issues—and often overprescribed. People often found themselves with extra oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percodan, and other pills when they no longer required pain management. The common response? To store those pills in the bathroom medicine cabinet “in case” they were needed for some purpose at a later date. The result? Many teens began to take these unmonitored pills and use them recreationally, often without knowing what they were and usually while combining them with marijuana and/or alcohol.

Teen prescription drug dependence soon became a phenomenon but not one that was sustainable. Why? Prescription drugs are hard to come by, and few teens had the financial backing to continually buy more pills on the black market. The solution: heroin.

Why Heroin?

Unfortunately, with regular abuse, prescription painkillers can quickly incite an addiction in their users, and teens are not exempt. Opiate addicted teens who are unable to find more painkillers had to find some way to manage their withdrawal symptoms and “stay well.” They turned to heroin because:

  • It too is an opioid drug and thus functions similarly in the body and brain, staving off withdrawal symptoms.
  • It is far cheaper than prescription painkillers. A day’s worth of prescription painkillers cost the same as three days’ worth of heroin.
  • It is easier to access for teens who know a heroin dealer because federal regulations make it difficult for teens to get painkillers legally.

Addressing Teen Heroin Addiction

Heroin can be smoked or injected, and many teens opt to avoid needles and smoke the drug. On the West Coast, this usually means “black tar” heroin, a sticky dark brown substance. On the East Coast, it generally means “China White,” an off-white powder. Unfortunately, needle use is rampant among heroin users on the West Coast—especially in the Bay Area—and any heroin abuse among teens can quickly lead to injection drug use with all the risks of hepatitis C and HIV transmission that come with it.

If your son is abusing heroin, don’t wait to seek treatment. Immediate intervention is recommended. Contact us at Muir Wood today for more information about your options.