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Are the pills in your medicine cabinet a gateway drug to heroin?

Opiate use has been escalating among young people. Pills in your own medicine cabinet may be the gateway to heroin. High school students are among those who have begun to experiment with Vicodin, Percocet, Norco, and other strong pain-killers.

Prescription pills can appear innocuous to many. These pills have been given by a doctor, which makes a person feel that they are safe. These pills are also made by a professional manufacturer, and may appear safer than street drugs.

Pain pills in your medicine cabinet may ultimately lead to a young person’s addiction to heroin. Not every young person that takes a Vicodin becomes an opiate addict. The danger of addiction arises from regular, daily use of these drugs. Here is some expert advice to help you protect your children from getting ahold of your drugs.
 


Do

Do keep painkillers locked up

If you take painkillers such as Vicodin, or the other pills mentioned here, it is important to keep these in a locked container. Locking pill containers are available at most drug stores.

Do flush’em

If you have pain medications that you are no longer taking, these should be destroyed. The FDA actually recommends that opiates be flushed down the toilet because of the high risk of abuse by others.

Do know the problems associated with opiate use

The problems with opiate addiction begin with regular use of these drugs. Tolerance to opiates begins after daily use over an extended period of time. A person’s body changes with regular opiate use, and this causes withdrawal when the drug is stopped.

Do understand what happens during withdrawal

Stopping the pain-killers leads to runny nose, nausea and vomiting, severe muscle pain, and diarrhea. Opiate addicts commonly refer to this as getting “sick,” and may feel like a bad flu. Withdrawal can also cause muscle twitching, or “kicking,” that can occur in the arms or legs.

Opiate addicts are afraid of becoming sick when detoxing, which can be extremely painful and leads to the regular, daily use of stronger and stronger opiates to stay well. Many who are addicted to these drugs will tell you that they are just trying to stay well. At some point they are no longer trying to get high and are instead just feeding their addiction.

Do know about the rapid tolerance of opiates

Using painkillers regularly can lead to a rapid tolerance. Using Vicodin or Percocet will turn into Roxicet or OxyContin, which can be more than 100 times stronger than Vicodin. OxyContin is often sold illicitly, or on the street for up to $80 per pill. You can imagine how expensive this becomes.


Don't

Do not give your medications to anyone else

It is critical that you never give your pain medications to another person. If they are prescribed to you, you are the only one who should take them. Individuals predisposed to addiction may have their first “taste” of opiates from someone else’s medicine cabinet.

Do not forget that painkillers are a gateway drug

The pricey OxyContin (also called “OC’s” or “OP’s”) will often become difficult to get, and heroin provides a cheaper option to “stay well.” People are often introduced to heroin by smoking it. Smoking heroin does not have the stigma or “scariness” of injecting the drug IV. For a high school student who has smoked marijuana, it might not be as scary to try smoking heroin.

Smoked heroin has only 1/4 to 1/2 the potency of IV heroin. Once again, the addict begins to spend so much money smoking the heroin, that injecting heroin begins to look like an attractive option. The addict desperately needs some form of opiate to avoid the kick.

Do not leave medications in a place where others may take them

Leaving your medications out in an easily accessible area allows for mistakes and tragedies to ensue. You don’t want any family members, children, or potential addicts to get a hold of your medication. Flush unused medications down the toilet to prevent this.

Do not dispose of your medications in a place that is obtainable to others

Disposing of your medications may seem like a simple task, but when you are in a family of children and or a possible addict you need to ensure that you have taken the proper precautions that nobody will be able to get their hands on it. As previously mentioned, flushing them is the best bet in disposal.


Summary
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Vicodin, Percocet, oxycontin, and heroin are all in a continuum of opiate-like substances, and one of the milder versions of the drug may lead to progressively heavier use. If you have concerns about opiate addiction for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor about the treatment options available.


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Jeremy Martinez, MDAddiction Psychiatrist

Jeremy Martinez, MD is an Addiction Psychiatrist who works at Pasadena Recovery Center and The Solstice Clinic in Los Angeles, CA. His addiction training was completed at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, with general psychiatry training at t...

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