California State Senator Wants to Ban OxyContin Prescriptions For Those Under 21

By Kelly Burch 02/20/17

“We should not be giving our young people a gateway drug that can lead to illicit drug abuse such as heroin."

A person holding a handful of pills.

California State Senator Anthony Portantino has introduced a measure that would make prescriptions of the painkiller oxycodone illegal for people younger than 21, in hopes of keeping young people from becoming hooked on the powerful opioid. 

“The abuse of this drug is a national epidemic and we need to protect our children from being prescribed this highly addictive substance," said Portantino, a Democrat, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Lawmakers, regulators and medical professionals have been wrestling with how best to control this synthetic heroin and I’m saying, while we’re looking for solutions, let’s make sure we keep it away from our most vulnerable population.”

Oxycodone is also known by the brand name OxyContin. The chemical structure of the painkiller is similar to that of heroin, and the misuse of painkillers like OxyContin is said to play a role in developing heroin addiction. 

“We should not be giving our young people a gateway drug that can lead to illicit drug abuse such as heroin," Portantino said. "What we all need is a time-out and pause for the health and well-being of our children.”

Last year, a Los Angeles Times investigation found that OxyContin is one of the most commonly misused drugs in the country, in large part because the drug’s advertised 12-hour pain relief wears off much sooner for many patients. 

The report found that even during clinical testing, Purdue Pharma knew that the pill did not provide 12-hour pain relief for all patients. When doctors began prescribing it to be taken more frequently in the late 1990s, the company urged them to give patients higher doses instead, which has been associated with a higher risk of overdose and death. 

In the two decades since the drug was introduced in 1996, seven million Americans have abused it, and 190,000 have died from overdoses involving OxyContin and other pain relievers since 1999.

Because of fears that some users get their first taste of the drug at a young age and later move to illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl, Portantino hopes that keeping oxycodone away from teens and young adults will help save lives. 

“I don’t want to see another child and family go from the soccer field to drug addiction counseling to tragedy,” Portantino said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.