Still Abused After All These Years – the New OxyContin

March 18, 2015

In 2010, almost half the people entering drug treatment programs had used the prescription painkiller OxyContin, a synthetic opiate, to get high. So policymakers urged that OxyContin be reformulated so that it was harder to abuse. However, five years later, researchers at Washington University found that 25 percent of people were still finding ways to abuse the new OxyContin.

Worrisome Results

The study findings are extremely concerning and indicate that the opioid epidemic may not be going away as quickly as some had hoped. The results, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, also found that some users had switched to heroin after having difficulty getting the same high from OxyContin.

The study authors surveyed more than 11,000 drug users currently being treated at 150 drug treatment addiction centers across the country. They found that initially the formula thwarted abuse of opioids, but then the numbers rose again.

“OxyContin abuse in people seeking treatment declined, but that decline slowed after a while. And during that same time period, heroin use increased dramatically,” said lead researcher Theodore Cicero, Ph.D.

5% of people were still finding ways to abuse OxyContin.”

When OxyContin was first introduced to the market, people would abuse the drug by crushing and snorting it, or letting it dissolve and then injecting it. Though the pill was designed for slow release, these methods gave users a faster, more powerful high. When the new version was formulated, it was created to prevent these types of abuse. However, users still found methods to get high. Or, they switched to heroin to save money and get high faster.

“A few years ago when we did interviews with people in treatment, many would tell us that although they were addicts, at least they weren’t using heroin,” Cicero noted. “But now, many tell us that a prescription opioid might run $20 to $30 per tablet while heroin might only cost about $10.”

Heroin has now become much more commonplace than it used to be, and has shed its taboo image as more people begin to use it.

Fighting the epidemic

Given this prevalence, many policymakers and government officials have joined together to fight this growing problem. Several states have created task forces that specifically work on finding ways to educate families and open up new treatment centers for those dealing with opioid addiction. In February 2015, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan created a Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force and a Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council. A month later, a section of the official state website was dedicated to the government task force.

Some policies have even reached the Senate. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine D-VA recently introduced a bill that protects people who are trained in administering naloxone, a drug used to prevent opioid overdoses. Many states are distributing the drug to families of opioid abusers in case of an emergency. The law, called the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act was introduced alongside Sen. Edward Markey D-MA. The creation and distribution of naloxone is one way that policymakers are attempting to lower the startling number of overdoses and deaths associated with opioid abuse.

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