Despite warnings and plenty of negative Hollywood publicity, people are misusing the painkiller OxyContin with devastating results.
What Is OxyContin?
OxyContin is an opioid prescription drug used to manage pain. Naturally occurring opiates within the human body regulate pleasure sensation and pain suppression among other things. OxyContin is a powerful opiate that in many ways resembles heroin. Slang terms for the medication include O.C., O and hillbilly heroin.
The drug is usually first encountered as a result of a legitimate pain issue. Doctors may prescribe it following painful dental procedures, injuries, accidents or for people suffering with chronic pain conditions. Yet it holds great addictive potential.
Users of OxyContin report feeling invincible, with more energy than they had before. Most users chop or crush the prescription tablets and then either snort or shoot up the drug. As with other addictive substances, over time, the user requires ever increasing amounts in order to receive the same pleasurable results until the body becomes physically dependent.
People trying to quit OxyContin sometimes experience significant withdrawal symptoms. Diarrhea, pain, vomiting, restlessness, cold flashes, leg spasms and anhedonia (absence of or inability to experience pleasure) are all potential symptoms for the person trying to unchain themselves from OxyContin.
OxyContin Addiction Common Among Celebrities
The prescription medication is being abused by many across the country, but a number of high-profile cases point to a preference for the drug among Hollywood celebrities. Police have reported that Michael Jackson suffered from OxyContin addiction, and the drug was linked to the 2003 overdose by Courtney Love, the same year that radio celebrity Rush Limbaugh revealed his own OxyContin addiction.
OxyContin was also part of the prescription drug cocktail that took the life of actor Heath Ledger in 2008. Some say the drug is popular with celebrities in part because of its price tag: $20-$40 per tablet. Addiction specialists in the area say that some Hollywood personalities spend literally thousands of dollars each week on the medication.
The 2010 death of former child actor Corey Haim has led investigators to uncover a large and lucrative illicit prescription drug ring in Southern California. Those involved with the ring manufacture fake prescription pads with the names of legitimate physicians who are completely unaware of the fraud. The fraudulent prescription pads are then sold to dealers or addicts who use them to purchase large supplies of prescription drugs.
A Sign of a Broader Prescription Drug Epidemic
The situation in California is representative of a problem that has been sweeping the nation. Law enforcement agents estimate hundreds of thousands of fake prescriptions are used across the country to illegally obtain OxyContin for non-prescription use.
States are fighting back with the aid of computerized prescription drug monitoring programs. Known as PDMP, these programs provide statewide databases that are accessible to all pharmacies and physicians in an effort to prevent doctor and prescription "shopping." The DEA Office of Diversion Control reports that as of January 2010:
The drug's developer, Purdue Pharma, has also been working to prevent the misuse of OxyContin. Since 2010, the company has reformulated the medication to make it less easy to break, crush or dissolve. The pharmaceutical company also strongly urges physicians to select patients to whom they will prescribe the medication with care. Patients with family histories of substance abuse or mental illness should not be considered strong candidates for OxyContin treatment. The company also stresses the need to monitor patients who do receive prescriptions.