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Drugs & Health Blog

Prescription Opioid Abuse Can Lead to Heroin Abuse

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

You may have heard marijuana referred to as a “gateway drug,” meaning that it can open doors to other kinds of drug abuse. But did you know that prescription painkillers can be gateway drugs to heroin? Some studies show that people who are addicted to heroin often started out abusing prescription painkillers (opioids), like OxyContin or Vicodin. Not everyone who abuses a prescription opioid will move on to heroin—but why take the risk?

It might begin innocently enough—you think that taking a family member’s prescription painkiller is safer than abusing an illicit drug like Ecstasy, and you start using your dad’s prescription to get high. But what if you can’t stop? Prescription painkillers act on the same brain areas as heroin, after all, and can be very addictive.

Once the pills run out, what do you do? If you’re addicted, you may look for another source, and sometimes that means buying heroin, a dangerous move, considering the potential consequences.

NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use and attitudes shows that high school students have long seen heroin as one of the most dangerous drugs out there. However, once a person is addicted to prescription painkillers and can’t get them anymore, heroin might not sound like such a bad deal.

Both prescription opioids and heroin are extremely hard to stop once a person is addicted. A person trying to quit abusing opioids or heroin usually goes through severe withdrawal, which can cause restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps, and involuntary leg movements.

Read more about the dangers of abusing prescription opioids.

Curious what could happen if you abuse someone else’s prescription drugs? “Choose Your Path” with NIDA’s interactive videos. The best part is, if you don’t like your outcome, you can go back and try another path!


Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Good information...found you through Google.

It was very informative, hope to see more post from you!

Thanks admin good article very good.

Very good article, we have to avoid drugs and addictive drugs.
good advice.
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I really like like when the government take time to give good comments like that.

Those who prescribe should be monitored too. Irresponsible prescription gives way to abuse of drugs.

siteprops to you for uploading . I linked to it on facebook.

it is a good information for us to prevent ourself from those drugs. I hope any other friends can share with me
more information about the drugs because i am a student studied in this field.

Thank you so much! Im doing a project for school and it really helped!!!!

[commercial link removed, per guidelines] teens usually start out mis abusing prescription drugs thus leading to the more serious stuff. Its not right and more people should be against it nand supporting local activities for these teens

We need to address this in our communities. It is becoming an epidemic

I just came onto your post and found it quite interesting. I am also associated with Canadian prescription, [commercial entity deleted, per guidelines] and enjoy to read the stuff on the same as its rarely found on internet. Thanks again for writing such a good post.
This is very true. I myself started using prescription drugs, and had to switch to heroin when the pills ran out. It's a quick change too, happened within a few months. I dropped out of college, lost all of my savings, had my car repossessed, lost my job of 5 years, and ended up homeless within a year of using that first pill. Pretty much everyone I ever met that used heroin started on prescription medication-Percocet, Vicodin, and Oxycontin. These are not "safe" drugs!!! I was a teenager when I used them, but I also watched my father head down the same path. The only difference was that his doctor was his dealer. He passed away last year, on his prescribed fentanyl and morphine. Basically, just don't do drugs!
I didn't know that prescription drug is one of the reasons why people turn to be an addict, but I think it depends on the people who use it. My cousin once told me that he visit some California treatment centers to learn more about drugs, he then discovers that people use drugs to avoid stress and depress.
i wish this included the percent of teens using it

Hey brandon, we surveyed high schoolers and found that 4.8 percent of 12th graders had tried Vicodin, which is one kind of prescription opiod, in the past year. You can find more detailed stats at this link: