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The Gateway Drug to Opiates: Not Always Marijuana

Elizabeth Renter
September 22nd, 2012
Updated 11/01/2012 at 3:38 am
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alcoholliquordrink 235x147 The Gateway Drug to Opiates: Not Always Marijuana

Despite what the talking political puppets and generals in the War on Drugs would have you think—pot is not much of a gateway drug, at least not when compared with the legal, but regulated and arguably more dangerous drug: alcohol. According to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, people who used alcohol in their youth are far more likely to abuse prescription opiates later in life. Yes, this means that alcohol could be a better indicator of future addiction than the illegal and much-vilified marijuana. Why is alcohol legal but marijuana illegal?

So Alcohol is the Gateway Drug…

According to the study, any previous substance abuse (including tobacco) was associated with an increased risk of opiate abuse later in life. Of the 12 percent of the survey population that used prescription opiates, 57 percent had previously used alcohol, 56 percent had used tobacco, and only 34 percent had used marijuana. While more girls than boys turned to opiates after only engaging in marijuana use, the numbers were much higher when looking at the risk of a young man moving from alcohol use to that of opiates.

So, what does this mean? Should we ban another substance—perhaps start another “war” on alcohol and tobacco? Whether on the for or against side of this notion, it won’t happen: there is too much big money tied into the alcohol and tobacco industries. And even if the method of mass incarceration were effective (which it certainly isn’t), you have the whole free will/civil liberties thing to worry about.

A similar study published in the Journal of School Health found similar results—that alcohol was far more likely to lead to other drugs than marijuana. That study found the real gateway was the legal drugs and that someone who tried alcohol, for instance, would be more likely to try marijuana and other substances—leading them up the chain of illegal drugs.

So, all that talk about marijuana leading to harder drugs—while not entirely untrue, still not as simple as it seems. With prescription opiates killing more people every year than cocaine and heroin combined, perhaps the money spent on enforcing federal marijuana laws could be better invested in prescription drug treatment options. Research indicates prescription drug abusers are more likely to turn to heroin (cheaper and still an opiate) when their addiction reaches a tipping point. Must be odd for the pharmaceutical industry to see their prized possession be such a large gateway drug.

Instead, however, those in power would rather send armed and shielded cops into dispensaries and gardens, holding on to their drug war with white knuckles, and backed with flawed rhetoric, against the voters’ wishes.

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  • mpastnor

    I don’t buy the statistics. There are those who are prone to addiction and really don’t need a so-called ‘gateway’ drug. Anything they started with could be considered a ‘gateway’ drug. What we need to do is get people into free rehabs. there should be rehab programs in high schools and in prisons. It would also help to have drug sniffing dogs in all prisons to stop the drugs spreading so rampantly.

  • Mark Gossal

    I am personally skeptical of all the so called ‘science’ backing these claims. I read that when they did the test on second-hand smoke, they put 50 people in a 10×10 size room and had 20 smoke machines bellowing smoke throughout the room. This does not seem like a proper test to me. I wonder if a study was done to see how many people have gone on to become addicted to prescription medication AFTER quitting smoking over the past 30 years. I believe if you partake of anything in moderation, it can’t hurt you. Then there is the personal responsibility of not touching highly addicted substances.

  • reference

    Research shows that people who die of drink related illness cost the NHs less than those who die of old age, natural causes etc due to fact that most health costs come in last few years of life. Sooooo, that being the case, why does it matter what people drink? The only reason why the anti drink lobby is still going is because it keeps annoying, talentless, pedantic busy-bodies in a job.

    • shanoj

      if one is out to keep costs down, why does it matter that people are dying early? hmm.. the possibitilies