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Gateway drugs? “Hallway” drugs are the bigger threat

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


OK. It’s official. Recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado and Washington. When the new law takes effect in a month, a person in Colorado who is at least 21 years of age will be able to legally possess up to one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or harvest up to six plants. Federal law, however, still prohibits the possession of marijuana.

Proponents of the legalization of marijuana assert that the plant can generate substantial tax revenues and that it’s much less problematic than tobacco and alcohol. Critics contend marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug that leads kids to use and abuse hardcore street drugs like heroin, crack and methamphetamines. So who is right? I really don’t know. But I don’t buy the “gateway” drug argument, because the most sought after drugs these days are the mainstream prescription painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants found in just about every home in this country. The real threat facing teenagers, young adults, parents and grandparents? Prescription pills.

When you think of a drug house, don’t just imagine the abandoned home occupied by needle-sharing squatters strung out on the floor. You need also to envision the tidy residence with a teenager sampling pills from various prescription bottles while mom and dad are at work.

So forget the whole marijuana as a gateway theory. Too many kids are going straight to the medicine cabinet. Once there, they are finding drugs so powerful and addictive that they keep coming back for more. When those are gone, they go looking elsewhere.

Apparently, the U.S. and New Zealand are the only two countries on the planet that allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise their products on television. A 15-year-old teenager today has probably seen in his short life thousands of advertisements about depression, erectile dysfunction or restless leg syndrome. Pills are mainstream. Prescription medicine has credibility. A generation has been raised to believe that there is a pill out there to solve their problems. Trouble sleeping? Take this. Can’t focus? Try that. Feeling sad? This will help.

Americans like their vices. Unfortunately, the fall out is substantial. Cigarette smoking causes approximately one in five deaths in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s almost 450,000 deaths each year. The CDC also estimated that alcohol kills nearly 75,000 Americans each year. Nearly 17,000 people die each year from the use and abuse of illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. For the most part, we seem to be making progress with educating the public about the dangers associated with smoking, drinking and street drug use. You no longer see ads showing fictional physicians in white coats discussing the medical benefits of cigarettes. But, try getting through a day of television viewing without being deluged by pharmaceutical advertisements showing actors in white coats meeting with their smiling patients. People don’t consider prescription medications to be a vice. Most people see them as having medicinal benefits that far outweigh any negatives.

According to the CDC, nearly 15,000 prescription drug overdose deaths were reported in 2008. Almost 75% of those deaths involved opiate painkillers. Oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone and fentanyl are the generic names for some of these pleasure-producing pills. A 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that almost two million Americans were either abusing or addicted to prescription pain relievers.

People aren’t just abusing pain pills. The demand is also very high for sedatives, tranquilizers and stimulants. Whether it’s a child’s ADHD medicine or grandma’s arthritis pills, some of the best drugs ever invented are stored a room or two away from your teenagers.

If you are a parent with teenagers at home, don’t just worry about the “gateway” drugs. Focus too on the “hallway” drugs. You know, the pills that you keep just down the hall from their room.


Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you.

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