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The Fall of OxyContin Abuse and the Rise of Heroin Overdose

oxycontin addiction treatment

Over the last decade, prescription painkiller overdoses have surreptitiously crawled to the top of our nation’s list of lethal epidemics. According to the CDC, more than 16,000 people died of opiate drug overdoses alone in 2013, four times the number of fatal overdoses due to prescription opiates in 1999.

Up until recently, OxyContin (the poster pill of painkillers) was a major player in this silent epidemic, contributing to thousands of hospitalizations of young men all over the country. This issue, however, could not stay quiet long. As more and more youth fell to the face of OxyContin abuse and addiction, America began to notice its sweep. In 2010, the manufacturers, alongside the FDA, responded with something groundbreaking: a new, reformulated version of the oxycodone drug, a tamper-resistant version intended to regulate use, deter abuse, and prevent overdoses. They pulled OxyContin’s original form from pharmacy shelves. 

OxyContin is the first ever painkiller to be reformulated to prevent drug abuse. If you or your teen currently uses OxyContin, chances are, your hands are on its latest and safest form. But what does that mean, exactly? How does the new OxyContin compare to its original version, and how does work? Are you still at risk of opiate addiction?

The original form of OxyContin was first seen as a breakthrough drug and rapidly gained popularity among young adults upon its release in 1995. In its original tablet form, OxyContin was designed to slowly release into a user’s body over a 12-hour period, promoting around-the-clock pain relief and allowing patients to sleep through the night. But as OxyContin prescriptions poured, many users devised a way abuse the drug. By defeating its time-release mechanism, users figured out how to attain the effects of Oxy all at once, in one single rush, rather than over an extended period of time. They could crush, or chew, the coating off and snort or inject the powder, providing an easy and instant high. 

The new form of OxyContin is still a potent painkiller and it still comes in tablet form. The new OxyContin, however, cannot be altered easily. If you attempt to crush or chew the pill, it will turn into a gummy mush rather than a fine powder. People are struggling to use OxyContin to get high. Most former abusers, and even dealers, do not want the drug anymore. They claim that while dissolving the drug is still a possibility, it is a time-consuming “science project” and simply not worth the effort. While the old Oxy sold for nearly $80 a pop, a 30-milligram pill of the new version sells for a mere $20 on the streets. 

So, in its efforts to prevent abuse, we can say that the new form of OxyContin has already seen great success. Two years after the market changes were introduced in 2010, overdose rates due to opioid prescriptions had already dropped by 20 percent, and the numbers of hospitalizations due to OxyContin abuse continue to fall. 

All the while, heroin abuse is on the rise: overdoses due to heroin climbed up 23 percent over the same two-year course. This is largely, in part, because the drug is now much more accessible than OxyContin. Its effects are extremely similar to the prescription opiate, yet the sister street drug is now much easier to abuse. 

OxyContin addiction, as we know, can bring about unbearable withdrawal symptoms. This explains then, why upon the new issuance of OxyContin, many users quickly switched to a more accessible drug. Regular OxyContin abusers were suffering. They could not get the same, immediate effects from the reformulated version. This is not uncommon. In fact, nearly half of adolescents who inject heroin claim to have used prescription opioids like OxyContin first.

In a sense, this is the new version’s biggest caveat. OxyContin has become even more of a gateway drug since its evolution, and is now opening the doors to much more dangerous substances. If you know someone who has used OxyContin in the past, they are at serious risk for other addictions down the road. While the new version of OxyContin is deterring new abuse, it may simultaneously be deterring existing users in a very wrong direction. Talk to your teen about OxyContin abuse, and seek professional help before it’s too late. For more information on OxyContin addiction treatment, see our Addiction Information page here or call Turnbridge at 877-581-1795.