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OxyContin: The Saga Continues!

What's true, what's not, who's being hurt?


Updated: December 2, 2003


In February, I reported abuse problems with the narcotic pain killer, OxyContin®. Much has happened since. Abuse has become wider spread; the DEA has gotten into the act; and Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin®, has gone to great lengths to address the problems. More importantly, information available now is more accurate, with less hype. Early deatj figures attributed to abuse of OxyContin® have now been shown to include deaths in which alcohol and other drugs were as big a factor as OxyContin®.

What is OxyContin®?
OxyContin® (oxycodone hydrochloride controlled-release) is an opioid analgesic in time-release form. OxyContin® is intended to be used in cases of severe to moderate pain where an opioid as appropriate - when other drugs do not relieve the pain. Oxycodone is also an ingredient in other drugs such as Percocet®, Tylox®, Percocet®, etc. 

How is OxyContin® abused?
OxyContin® tablets are manufactured with a time-release mechanism meant to release oxycodone over a 12-hour period. If the tablets are crushed, the mechanism is broken and the entire dose is readily released. Abusers tend to use OxyContin® in one of three ways:

  • chewing the tablets 
  • crushing, then snorting the powder
  • crushing, then dissolving the powder in water for intravenous injection

How do abusers obtain OxyContin?®
The methods by which abusers and those selling it to them obtain OxyContin® are myriad. They include:

  • visiting doctors and lying about symptoms to get prescriptions
  • forging prescriptions
  • robbing pharmacies
  • improper prescribing practices by unscrupulous physicians
  • health care professionals who "divert" medication for their own use or for sale

What about the deaths attributed to OxyContin® Abuse?
While earlier reports contained some pretty startling numbers, they tended not to include very important facts:

  • In many, if not most cases, death was a result of polypharmacy - a mixture of drugs. In some cases, the victims had been drinking and using at least one other drug in addition to oxycodone.
  • In many cases, there was no way to know that the oxycodone found in the bodies had come from OxyContin® rather than another drug containing oxycodone. There are 59 prescription drugs in the United States that contain oxycodone.

Who actually pays the price for OxyContin® abuse?
Obviously, there's a high price in dollars when OxyContin® is bought on the streets. Though the numbers have been overstated in some news reports, some abusers paid with their lives. There's another price that's being paid though - the inability or increased difficulty legitimate patients face in getting OxyContin® to treat chronic pain.

    The cost to people in pain:
    Many people feel this is the highest price of OxyContin® abuse. Some doctors are hesitant to prescribe OxyContin®. Some pharmacies no longer stock it for fear of being robbed. Some pharmacies will special order it; others won't dispense it at all. People who suffer from chronic pain that requires medications such as OxyContin® have enough health-related concerns without having to concern themselves with whether they'll be able to get the drugs they need. There's also the concern for their personal safety. On May 8, WCHS-TV in Charleston, West Virginia, reported a robbery at a pharmacy in Huntington, West Virginia. As part of their report, they advised people taking OxyContin® not to tell anyone who didn't need to know because of possible home robberies or purse snatchings and muggings for the drug. In addition, the publicity surrounding the abuse of OxyContin® has created a sort of stigma in the minds of many people. Patients using the drug are hesitant to admit using it for fear of being viewed as an addict or abuser of pain medications.

    Many chronic pain patients have called OxyContin® their "miracle," creditnn it for their being able to function at any reasonable level. Of note in any discussion on this topic is the problem that chronic pain is one of the leading causes of assisted and nonassisted suicide.

    The cost in $$ of OxyContin® on the streets:
    Strength ~ Retain Price ~ Street Price1

    • 10mg ~ $1.25 ~ $5 to $10
    • 20mg ~ $2.30 ~ $10 to $20
    • 40mg ~ $4.00 ~ $25 to $40
    • 80mg ~ $6.00 ~ $65 to $80

    It's not possible to get accurate figures on deaths caused by OxyContin®. In many of the deaths attributed to OxyContin®, there were alcohol and/or other drugs discovered in the victims' systems during autopsy. Without a reliable witness to tell authorities that OxyContin® was taken by the victims, there is no way to tell whether the source of oxycodone was indeed OxyContin®.


1 Source: Cincinnati Police Department Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad

>>Please click the link below to continue to page 2, "What's being done about the abuse?"<<

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