OxyContin - new
drug war menace?
Fatal overdoses of a powerful prescription
painkiller have been increasing since 1997, and it's no surprise
that law enforcement is losing the war on this drug as with all
the rest. Known as the "prescription heroin," OxyContin
is a highly euphoric and addictive narcotic. The pill's time-release
coating is designed to dispense the active ingredient, opioid
oxycodone, over an 8-hour period of time. Prescription bottles
warn not to chew or pulverize the pill; so, that's exactly what
OxyContin addicts are doing. The time-release coating is sucked
off, or otherwise removed, and the pill is then pulverized for
snorting or injecting so that an 8-hour dosage can be absorbed
into the system all in one euphoric rush.
Some in law enforcement have encouraged physicians to discontinue
prescribing the drug that was hailed at the World Pain Care Symposium
in Canada when it was approved by the FDA in 1996. OxyContin
is prescribed for moderate to severe pain, enabling cancer patients
and sufferers of chronic pain to sleep through the night and
avoid mood swings during their waking hours.
"Doctor shopping" is prevalent. When one physician
cuts off the Oxy supply, the phone book offers a plethora of
other caregivers. At the pharmacy, a bottle of one hundred 40-milligram
OxyContin pills cost about $400. According to the National Drug
Intelligence Center, that same bottle sells from $2,000 to $4,000
on the streets. To make the brisk sales even more profitable,
health insurance providers are picking up the tab in many cases.
Blank prescription tablets are stolen and doctors' names are
forged. Pharmacies are robbed and $500-a-day habits are financed
with burglaries and bad checks. Paralysis, violent crime and
well over one hundred deaths are attributed to OxyContin. These
dynamics pose serious challenges to winning the war against Oxy,
in what is cited by some authorities as a national epidemic in
the making. Yet OxyContin is not the problem. Neither are other
opiate derivatives such as Percodan, Percocet and Tylox. OxyContin
is a close cousin to codeine and modeled after morphine, which
means this new menace to a drug-free America has been around
since the 1800s, long before any machination of a drug czar.
There are 3.9 million Americans who use prescription drugs for
non-medical reasons, far surpassing the 2.1 million who use heroin
and cocaine, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration. The National Association of Drug Diversion
Investigators reports that out of the 20 most commonly abused
drugs, 13 are prescription medications. Because there is no established
network for prescription drug trafficking, the task is daunting
for investigators. A nationwide petition is being distributed
in effort to ban Oxycontin, but as drug policy reformers know,
if it's not Oxy, then it will be Darvon, Vicodin, Demerol--or
glue and aerosol fumes for that matter.
The words of Nora Callahan in her acceptance speech in Washington
DC for the 2000 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award ring true
as ever. "If drug abuse is an epidemic, then why are cops
dispensing the cure?"