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Painkiller Addiction Can be a Gateway to Heroin

CBSNews -- Stephanie King's parents never thought their daughter would become a heroin addict.

Stephanie King's parents never thought their daughter would become a heroin addict. She was raised in a quiet middle class community in Delaware. But while studying at the University of Delaware, King was hospitalized for a severe stomach infection. The doctors sent her home with a prescription for Percocet, a drug that's a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, commonly used to manage chronic and acute pain.

"I started taking them and I liked the feeling I got," she said. "After that it was every day."

Soon the Percocet led to oxycontin, another narcotic for chronic pain.

But when law enforcement stopped the doctor from writing her prescriptions, King turned to using heroin. "It's really cheap -- and it's everywhere," she told CBS News' Susan McGinnis. "It's everywhere!"

King said she was always waiting for her next fix. '"It slowly crumbled with the pills. With the heroin, it was just done. It was game over -- I needed it every second of every day."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 in 15 people who take a prescription painkiller for non-medical reasons will try heroin within the next 10 years.

In the last few years, heroin and prescription painkillers overdoses have increased dramatically. Deaths from prescription drug use have increased by 20 percent since 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2010, there were more than 16,000 drug poisoning deaths from prescription painkillers, and 3,000 drug poisoning deaths due to heroin.

Attorney General Eric Holder has called deaths from heroin and overdoses from prescription painkillers an "urgent health crisis."

"Right now, few substances are more lethal than prescription opiates and heroin," he said.

King said her addiction made her suicidal and she worried that if she didn't kill herself, the drugs would eventually take her life.

With support from her parents, King entered rehab and she has managed to stay clean for about a year and half. Today, she works as a house manager for a rehabilitation program and helps other people recover from serious drug addition.

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