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Article Summary

OxyContin Deaths

For many people in severe pain, OxyContin has been their "miracle drug." From cancer patients to many of the headache and Migraine sufferers who frequent this site, OxyContin is the only drug that controls their pain. Unfortunately, as has happened with too many other sorely needed medications, it is now being abused as a "street drug."

How OxyContin Works

As it comes from the manufacturer (Purdue Pharma), OxyContin tablets have a time release mechanism so that it is released into the blood stream over a period of time to provide sustained pain relief. Abusers have discovered that when the tablets are crushed, the time release mechanism is destroyed. Many abusers chew the tablets or crush them then either inhale the powder as they would cocaine or prepare and inject it as they would heroin.

The result is a powerful, morphine-like high.

Narcotic painkillers have been sold on the streets for years, many of them being opioids, but none have been the problem that OxyContin is becoming. The largest contributing factor is that since OxyContin is made to release the opioid oxycodone over an extended period of time, each tablet contains proportionately higher amounts of it than other drugs. Drug abusers see it as a bigger high; drug dealers see it as a bigger profit. Here are a few examples:

OxyContin Compared To Other Drugs

  • Tylox contains 5 mg of oxycodone per tablet
  • Percocet contains a maximum of 10 mg of oxycodone per tablet at most
  • OxyContin, depending on the strength of the tablet, can contain from 10 to 160 mg of oxycodone

Thus far, there have been 59 confirmed deaths from OxyContin overdoses in Kentucky, six deaths in Ohio, and 28 in Virginia.* Beyond the obvious consequences of drug abuse, the abuse of OxyContin holds some potentially worrisome consequences for those who need this medication.

OxyContin Drawbacks

  • Some pharmacies in areas where OxyContin abuse has become a problem will no longer stock the drug because they are afraid of their stores being broken into for it.
  • Some doctors are reluctant to prescribe OxyContin because they don't want to be suspected of illegal or irregular prescribing by government agencies watching for suspicious prescribing of the drug.
  • In some areas, people are afraid to have the drug in their homes or carry it with them for fear of being robbed.
  • Some patients now fear taking the drug for various reasons. For some, the fact that it's a drug that's abused, leads them to think that it's a "bad" drug. Others feel that since it's an abused drug, taking it has a stigma attached to it. Others fear addiction to it since it's now an abused drug.

So far, law enforcement agencies are citing major problems with OxyContin abuse are Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Maine.

* Please note that these figures are incomplete. They were what were available at the time this feature was published, and complete data was not available. Many of these deaths were the result not of OxyContin alone, but of polypharmacy — a combination of drugs, frequently with alcohol as well.

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