Overview: You’d have had to be way out
in the boonies to have missed the media buzz about OxyContin®
lately. And ironically, if that’s where you were, that’s one
of the places you’d have been most likely to bump into the potent
new painkiller. Its early user base in rural areas did earn it
the made-for-media nickname of “hillbilly heroin,”
but OxyContin turned out to be anything but a regional problem
or a media myth, and users in the real world quickly proved it
can cause the same type of abuse and addiction it was designed
Clearly, a fresh look at OxyContin
is overdue. That’s especially true since, like most drugs, OxyContin
isn’t all good or bad. Still, its darker, down side can be very
dark and very down — and very hard to handle.
Street Names: OC, Oxy, cotton, killer.
Appearance: Tablets/caplets with “OC”
em-bossed on one side, “10,” “20,” “40,”
“80” or “160” on the other. (Numbers reflect
Medical Uses: OxyContin is used to reduce chronic pain,
especially the pain associated with severe injuries, fractures,
Actions/Effects: OxyContin differs from other forms of
oxycodone (like Vicodin® and Percodan®) in only one way:
The oxycodone in OxyContin is a “sustained-release”
form of the drug, which means that OxyContin tablets pack higher
doses of oxycodone than would otherwise be safe, since the drug
is designed to be released more slowly. But users quickly discovered
that, by simply chewing the tablets or crushing and sniffing
them, all the oxycodone in a tablet can be released at once,
in a huge, heroin-like rush of oblivion. And a new drug problem
Risks: Defeating its sustained-release feature eliminates
OxyContin’s safety margin, making it as addictive and deadly
as other narcotics. Oxy abusers found out about that first, too,
faster than the media could say, “hillbilly heroin.”
Trends: Although OxyContin has only been available as a
prescription drug since 1996, it quickly found favor on the street.
According to national surveys, 1.67 million Americans 12 and
older admitted nonmedical use in 2009, while the number of high
school seniors reporting use in the previous year stood at 5.1
percent in 2010.
Demographics: Since OxyContin is a form of oxycodone,
its impact can best be seen by contrasting oxycodone-related
emergency room admissions upon and after its 1996 introduction.
According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the number of oxycodone-related
admissions jumped from 3,290 in 1996 to 175,949 in 2009.