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Article Summary

Hydrocodone and Oxycodone Abuse Has Increased

40% of the 119,000 mentions of narcotic pain medications in emergency rooms involved either oxycodone or hydrocodone in 2002, according to a new report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The DAWN Report on "Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Polydrug Use, 2002" is based on data from SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which tracks drug-abuse related mentions of various substances in hospital emergency rooms.

The report found 47,594 mentions of these two narcotic pain medications in 42,808 emergency room visits related to drug abuse. These drugs are marketed under many brand names, including Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. Approximately three-quarters of emergency room visits involving oxycodone (71 percent) and hydrocodone (78 percent) also involved additional drugs.

Visits to emergency rooms involving both hydrocodone and its combinations and oxycodone and its combinations have been trending upward since 1994.

"The abuse of narcotic pain relievers is a serious and growing public health problem," SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie noted.

"Narcotic pain medications are wonders of modern medicine for patients with serious pain who are under the care of physicians. When diverted from their legitimate use, however, they are highly addictive narcotics that the body perceives exactly as if the person were taking heroin."

Dangerous When Combined With Alcohol

DAWN measures mentions of specific illicit, prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are linked to drug abuse in visits to hospital emergency departments. Of the 42,808 drug-abuse related visits to emergency rooms involving either oxycodone or hydrocodone, 3,000 involved use of both drugs simultaneously. Alcohol was present in 33 percent of emergency room visits involving oxycodone and 31 percent of visits involving hydrocodone.

Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications) were present with 21 percent of oxycodone visits and 26 percent of hydrocodone-involved emergency room visits. Cocaine was involved in 12 percent of oxycodone-related visits and nine percent of hydrocodone-related visits, while heroin was involved in eight percent of oxycodone-related visits and four percent of hydrocodone-related visits.

Marijuana was found in seven percent of visits involving oxycodone, and in five percent of visits to emergency rooms involving hydrocodone. Carisoprodol, which is used therapeutically as a muscle relaxant, was present in four percent of visits involving oxycodone and eight percent of visits involving hydrocodone in 2002.

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