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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oxy = Gateway To Heroin

 "When Gil Kerlikowske, President Barack Obama's national drug policy director, 
recently described today's prescription drug abuse in the U.S. as worse 
than the crack epidemic of the 1980s, he was simply echoing what 
these drug dealers have long known."

(Mariana van Zeller, "Painkillers Are a Gateway to Heroin," 
CNN,, June 23 2011)

In the U.S., more people are abusing prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy combined, but the most destructive have been prescription pain drugs such as oxycodone, best known by the brand name OxyContin.

The Centers for Disease Control data show overdose deaths from prescription painkillers more than doubled from 2000 to 2007, and in 17 states, painkiller overdoses are now the number one cause of accidental death.

Gateway To Heroin

In 2009, Current TV correspondent Mariana von Zeller traveled to South Florida to report on the prescription drug pipeline that stretches from the beaches of Miami to the hills of Appalachia.  Her documentary, The OxyContin Express, won a Peabody Award for its depiction of the impact of Florida’s prescription drug epidemic on addicts, law enforcement officials and prisoners. 

Now von Zeller has produced a new documentary called Gateway to Heroin that exposes how prescription opiate addicts are turning to heroin for a cheaper high.

For Gateway to Heroin, von Zeller focused on the situation in Massachusetts, where prescription pills have become the most popular street drugs.  Many drug dealers travel to Florida (referred to by von Zeller as the “Colombia of prescription drugs”) to obtain prescription drugs illegally, bringing them back to Massachusetts to sell on the street.  In an article on the CNN website, von Zeller states that more people are abusing prescription drugs than heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy combined.

In Massachusetts, von Zeller discovered that oxycodone is for many addicts a gateway drug that leads to heroin. She says, "The truth is heroin is little more than a natural form of oxycodone. Both heroin and oxycodone affect the brain in similar ways and satisfy the same cravings in addicts.  The main difference between these two drugs on the street is that heroin is cheaper, easier to obtain and more potent."

Lt. Tom Coffey of the Massachusetts State Police told von Zeller, "I don't think I have met anybody under the age of 30 that's a heroin addict that did not start out using oxycodone or OxyContin."

Von Zeller soon found out the truth herself. In the course of researching Gateway to Heroin, she discovered that every heroin addict she spoke to started out by abusing OxyContin.

According to von Zeller, "They began abusing Oxy and became addicted, and then the pills either became too expensive or unavailable. Instead of suffering through the pain of withdrawal, they turned to heroin as a substitute and never looked back."

For those who have suffered and lost because of prescription drug addiction, the importance of state and federal authorities taking the issue seriously cannot be understated. But it's also important for people to acknowledge that painkillers have now introduced a whole new generation of addicts to heroin, an addictive, dangerous drug and one of the most difficult to quit. Every action, no matter how well-intentioned, brings a reaction.

Mariana von Zeller offers this advice: "While Florida's new law (Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently signed legislation that aims to monitor the state's pain clinics and put an end to the illicit trade.) is unquestionably needed, it also begs us to start thinking about what happens when Oxy addicts up and down the Eastern Seaboard have their supply cut off. If treatment isn't there for them, dealers, like the ones I met, will be."

Gateway To Heroin Vanguard Trailor


In a new study, Thomas McLellan and his colleagues at the Center for Substance Abuse Solutions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found 11.7 percent of the 202 million opioid prescriptions  issued in the United States in 2009 went to children and young adults.

Additional research is needed to determine whether this relatively high rate of prescriptions is warranted, the researchers say. Medical professionals may need to consider alternative medications for young people in some situations, McLellan said. (Rachael Rettner, "Abuse of Prescription Opioid Pain Medication A 'Vast Problem,'" MyHealthNewsDaily, April 5 2011)

A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interviewed 50 injection drug users ages 16 to 25 living in New York City or Los Angeles, who had also abused perception drugs in the last three months. They asked the teens open-ended questions, such as "Why did you use it that first time?" and "Where did you get it?"

Forty-three of the participants said they had misused prescription opioids before using heroin. Adolescents most commonly obtained opioids from friends, family or their own medical prescriptions, which they later abused.

Sgt. Troy Burnett, of the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force of Utah makes the following observations:

"There's no doubt that prescription drug painkillers are a gateway to heroin. It's a big concern that police are detaining more abusers between the ages of 18 and 25. While there are ill or hurt people who need painkillers, we urge patients and doctors to use extreme caution in taking these drugs. They are extremely addictive and can lead the user from a short period of relief to years of misery due to the abuse.

"Also, parents and other role models, such as teachers and sports coaches, must do everything they can to encourage young people to stay way from "popping pills," which is a temptation for many teenagers. Again, the highly addictive qualities of prescription drugs make them a deadly game to play.

"Prescription drugs come with a false mindset, because it comes from a doctor or a pharmacy, that it's OK, it's kind of a 'good' drug," explains Burnett.

("A Gateway To Heroin," Ogden Standard-Examiner, June 16 2010)

Quotes To Remember

“It's like the purest form of heroin I've ever done,” a former heroin and OxyContin addict told the Cincinnati Inquirer. He said his OxyContin addiction led to a “spree of drugstore robberies last year — and to prison. Absolutely it was just as addictive [as heroin].”

“They'll kick a bag of cocaine out of the way to get to Oxy,” said Detective Roger Hall of the Harlan County Sheriff's Department in Kentucky.

(Rod MacTaggart, "Heroin: The New 'Gateway Drug' To OxyContin Addiction,", March 11 2009) 

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