Psychologist: The 'Gateway Drug' is in Your Medicine Cabinet
With three robberies within days of each other this week, a drug crisis seems to have struck the Upper Valley. A man was charged Friday after allegedly confessing to two robberies in Wilder. The following was first published in October 2015. How heroin became such an issue may shock you.
The drug crisis hitting the Upper Valley "doesn't start in the streets," clinical psychologist Steven Atkins told the Second Growth annual meeting in October 2015. "It starts in our medicine cabinets."
In too many cases, Atkins said, the "gateway drug" to heroin is no longer marijuana or even cocaine, but a pain killer prescribed by the family doctor. "Families are becoming addicted to prescription medications, and when doctors finally sniff out there’s an issue and start cutting back, these families are addicted and they need a fix," he said. "That’s where heroin comes in. What you’re seeing is the greatest drug addiction issue in U.S. history. This is the worst, and it starts by going to your doctor and taking some of these pills." With increasing availability, heroin is considerably cheaper than prescription opiate medications, many of which use the same active ingredient.
Atkins's presentation stamped an emphatic exclamation point on the meeting held by Second Growth, the White River Junction-based nonprofit that works with Upper Valley adolescents on substance abuse and violence prevention. He was joined by Glenn Barnes, a Windsor County deputy state's attorney who deals with drug abuse issues, and Heather Prebish, clinical director at Recover Together, one of two West Lebanon clinics treating opiate addiction.
Asked how physicians could continue over-prescribing opioid painkillers in the face of a crisis that is producing over 20,000 prescription-medication overdose deaths a year -- with the fastest rate of growth among women--Second Growth Executive Director Barbara Farnsworth pointed out that the medical system sends mixed messages. "Hospitals are rated on patient care in part based on pain," she said. "So if I'm a doctor in Lebanon and my client lives in Pike, New Hampshire, and it's February and he just had his hip replaced and it's an hour's drive to get here, I'm going to give him a 90-day prescription."
Police departments have been aware of the problem for some time, said Major Brad Vail of the Hartford Police Department in an interview. "We've known for several years that the prescription issue was a problem, even before we had what we call the heroin epidemic." With the introduction of prescription drug monitoring systems, first in Vermont and recently in New Hampshire, Vail says, there's been some improvement. "Now a doctor can go on and say, 'This guy's been here looking for Oxycodone and he's been seven other places looking for it.'"