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Oxycodone: The Gateway Drug

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD By March 1, 2019

Rehabs in NJ are often questioned about what a ‘gateway drug’ is. Nearly every time the term comes up, however, it’s in association with cannabis (marijuana) and often echos the era of ‘reefer madness’. The basic definition of a ‘gateway drug’ for drug rehab centers in NJ is a ‘lite’ drug which entices the user to either feel safer or compelled to try and find a stronger ‘high’ by experimenting with more potent drugs like heroin.

While there are no statistics or research that backs up the claim that cannabis is an effective gateway drug definitively, research is continuing to pile up showing that prescription opioids act closer to the definition of a gateway drug, though for different reasons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that forty-five percent of people addicted to heroin started on prescription opioid-based painkillers like oxycodone. Oxycodone and hydrocodone come in various forms as prescription drugs and are prescribed based on various conditions when a doctor treats a patient’s pain or chronic pain issues. Brand names include Lorcet, Lortab, Norco and Vicodin for hydrocodone variants and Oxycontin and Oxecta for oxycodone. Fentanyl is a much stronger form and is distributed under brand names Duragesic, Actiq, Fentora, Lazanda and Sublimaze.

The fear of the gateway drug is that a less powerful drug will lead to more powerful drugs and eventually end with an overdose. What typically happens with those that begin with one of the mentioned drugs isn’t necessarily seeking out of a more powerful high, but instead the prescription drug itself has already formed an addiction and the patient either no longer can afford it, their insurance has run out or they simply cannot find a doctor that will prescribe them more. Because the addiction is already in full swing, the person who is suffering from opioid use disorder will then seek out similar drugs, for which heroin is the most common.

Opioids themselves are a synthetic form of opiates. Opium, heroin and morphine are the most well known opiates. Most users of opioids that find themselves inside the trap of addiction typically find they are seeking more of the drug to subside withdrawal symptoms which compels them to seek out the most commonly found opiate outside of the doctor’s office, which is heroin. Often times, heroin ends up being significantly cheaper and much more powerful than opioids, with the exception of fentanyl which is up to 100 times more powerful than heroin and is responsible for a majority of opioid overdoses.

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While none of this information is to make light of issues with marijuana usage, it’s clear by statistical analysis and behaviors surrounding prescription painkillers based on opioids that it more fully fits the end results that gateway drug definitions warn about.

If you or someone you know might be suffering from substance use disorder, call the best New Jersey rehab, Discovery New Jersey at 844-478-6563. Our staff is ready and willing to help break the addiction that has taken such intense control of your life. 

Article Reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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