Marijuana has long been known as the “gateway drug” — a relatively benign attraction into a web of criminal contacts that can lead a neophyte to other more addictive and lethal drugs.

But marijuana is not the only gateway anymore.

According to the National Drug Control Policy Center, more people have their first illegal drug experience with prescription medication that was either stolen by or sold or given to someone for whom it was not intended.

That means the first drug experience is with a substance that could cause physical dependency or worse. In Maine, more people die from drug overdoses than in car crashes.

The state drug-control policy office is looking at ways to decrease the amount of medicine going to non-medical users and is looking for help from everyone in the community. That is an effort that deserves all of our support. The education starts with doctors and other medical professionals who prescribe drugs making sure they instruct patients on the proper use of medication.

It continues with monitoring that gets people throughout the health care system to keep track of prescriptions and discourage doctor-shopping.

And anti-diversion programs should include a safe disposal system for no-longer-needed medications, along with a public education campaign on the dangers of leaving unused painkillers sitting around in the medicine cabinet.

Too often, stray medications are finding their way into the wrong hands, creating a cycle of addiction and crime.

We all have a role in disrupting that cycle. The medical profession is the first line in the battle, but everyone who gets a prescription should also join the fight.