For years, people have called marijuana a “gateway drug”. The implication has been that marijuana is risky because it can lead to other, more damaging drugs. Any drug is theoretically a gateway drug-very few people start with one and never try another.
Recent media reports have described a major problem with heroin and opiate overdoses in the greater Boston area. Since the beginning of the year, there have been 123 opiate overdoses in the small industrial city of Taunton alone, 7 of them fatal. There have been 185 opiate related deaths across the state in just the last three months. The number of emergency room admissions for opiate related overdoses has doubled over the past year.
What is apparent is that marijuana is not the gateway drug of concern. Many people smoke marijuana and never have problems related to their use. What is clear is that the new gateway drug is given out by physicians. Opiate based painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycontin have become the gateway toward heroin use and this process plays a large part in the recent heroin related deaths. Opiates are sometimes referred to as narcotics and are widely used to manage pain.
Vicodin contains a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Both medicines are pain killers. Hydrocodone is an opioid pain medication. Acetaminophen is a less potent pain reliever that increases the effects of hydrocodone. The major brand name for this drug is Tylenol. Vicodin is used to relieve moderate to severe pain.
Percocet contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone. Oxycodone is an opioid pain medication with fewer side effects of another typically used painkiller, morphine. Acetaminophen is a less potent pain reliever that increases the effects of oxycodone. Percocet is used to relieve moderate to severe pain.
OxyContin (oxycodone) is an opioid pain medication. OxyContin is used to treat moderate to severe pain that is expected to last for an extended period of time. OxyContin is used for around-the-clock treatment of pain. It is not to be used on an "as-needed" basis for pain.
Morphine is another opiate class drug and is used to treat moderate to severe pain, usually in a hospital setting. Short-acting formulations are taken as needed for pain. The extended-release form of this medicine is for around-the-clock treatment of pain. This form of morphine is not for use on an as-needed basis for pain.
The symptoms of opiate withdrawal may include anxiety, panic attack, nausea, insomnia, muscle pain, muscle weakness, fevers, and other flu-like symptoms. Respiratory arrest and death can occur in cases of overdose.
More trouble is on the way. The FDA, despite opposition from the drug research and treatment community, recently approved the release of a powerful new pain killer, Zohydro. Zohydro's easily crushed capsules will contain up to 50 milligrams of pure hydrocodone; that's 10 times more hydrocodone than a regular Vicodin. One capsule will pack enough hydrocodone to kill a child. An adult lacking a tolerance to opioids could overdose from taking just two capsules.
Law enforcement and treatment professionals are anticipating a marked increase in overdoses and opiate related fatalities when this drug hits the market in the next few weeks.