Abuse of OxyContin Is on the Rise
A drug praised as a breakthrough in pain treatment has been linked with a rising death toll among young people seeking an illegal high.
The prescription painkiller OxyContin offers up to 12 hours of safe and effective pain relief when properly prescribed and used as directed. It has few side effects and is slowly released over time, allowing it to be used twice daily. The drug's narcotic ingredient, oxycodone, has been used in other drugs for 20 years. When used as directed, pain medications like OxyContin do not become addictive.
A heroin-like high
But OxyContin's strength helped it sell well, and the drug found its way to abusers. Illicit users crush the capsule and inject or snort the powder, which leads to quick release and fast absorption of the dose designed to be released over 12 hours. It provides a heroin-like high but dangerously increases the toxicity and the probability of a fatal overdose.
The problem surfaced in rural Maine, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. The drug soon showed up in such urban centers as Philadelphia, Boston and Washington.
A growing toll
Abuse of OxyContin has risen faster than misuse of any other prescription drug in decades, federal officials say. The Drug Enforcement Administration says the drug has been over-prescribed, in part because of aggressive marketing, a claim denied by the drug's maker.