The New "Gateway Drug"

We’ve all read about marijuana being a “gateway drug” to more dangerously addictive drugs, such as cocaine and crack, or methamphetamine, or narcotics like heroin and morphine.

The new “gateway drug”, especially to heroin, is the prescription narcotic OxyContin, and its active opioid ingredient, oxycodone. Other drugs in the same class also known as a gateway include Norco, Vicodin, Fentanyl (also used in a patch form), Dilaudid, Loratab and Percocet.

Other heroin gateway drug classes include Benzodiazepines with prescription names such as Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax) and Clonazepam (Klonopin), Lorazepam (Ativan). These drugs can be deadly when attempting to detox or clean-up without medical supervision.

In cities, towns and even rural areas all across America, heroin addiction is a growing problem. Even in communities where there was previously little or no heroin abuse, say law enforcement officials, the notorious illicit street drug is now becoming more and more common, and the need for local heroin detox programs continues to grow.

The common denominator in all of these communities, according to recent studies, is the proliferation of OxyContin addiction and abuse (heroin’s legal opioid cousin).

This prescription narcotic is so chemically similar to heroin that, for addicts and abusers, they are virtually interchangeable. But what is not interchangeable is the price, says law enforcement.

A hit of heroin is a fraction of the cost of the same high from OxyContin (or oxycodone). Prescription narcotics generally sell on the illicit street market at around $1 per milligram. A one-time high from an 80 milligram oxycodone pill for an experienced user would run roughly $80.

Heroin, on the other hand, sells in many areas for around $100 a gram. Depending on a user’s tolerance level (long-time users need more per dose) a gram can deliver up to 20 doses, or highs.

In other words, it’s vastly less expensive to get and stay stoned on heroin than OxyContin.

That is what's driving OxyContin addicts away from their tidy, predictably-measured and reliably-pure prescription, OxyContin, to the infinitely more unpredictable and dangerous heroin.