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Oxycontin abuse is on the decline in the USA, although it is stubbornly persistent in Canada.

Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh used to be an outspoken critic of drug abuse in the USA. On his television show on 5 October 1995, Limbaugh said that “too many white (people) get away with drug abuse,” and that tougher penalties and more tax dollars to law enforcement would help the United States win its war on drugs.

Then on 28 October 2006, a Florida court issued a warrant for Limbaugh's arrest on charges of “doctor shopping” to get multiple doctors to write multiple prescriptions so he could get the drugs to feed his own addiction to the pain killing drug Oxycontin. This was three years after his announcement that he would leave his show for 30 days to enter rehab.

Oxycontin, predictably, was the focus of a great deal of media attention in the years 1995 to 2005. As the Limbaugh story faded, media interest in Oxycontin faded, but not interest in Oxycontin as the one of the most commonly abused prescription medications.

Why Oxycontin Is So Addictive

Oxycontin, which is the trade name for a medication known as oxycodone, is a synthetic opiate drug in the same class as codeine, morphine, and heroin. Its primary use is as a pain killer. Oxycontin is a time-release version of oxycodone made by the Purdue Company.

It's probably accurate to say that the problem with Oxycontin is not so much that it is addictive but that withdrawing from Oxycontin is especially unpleasant.

After several months of use, each dose of Oxycontin begins to break down in the liver just an hour after it is taken. Taking other drugs, and exposure to various environmental toxins, aggravates this effect.

Withdrawal symptoms may kick in just an hour or so.

Not having the drug in one's body results in anxiety, panic reactions, nausea, muscle pain, insomnia, and flu-like reactions.

Taking another hit of the drug, however, stops the symptoms of withdrawal for another hour, or maybe two.

Hillbilly Heroin

To avoid withdrawal symptoms, Oxycontin addicts may snort, inject, or give themselves suppositories of the drug. The advantage of “shooting up” oxycodone over just taking a pill, however, is minimal. Many addicts never develop the track marks and anal fissures often found in heroin addicts.

Because many people become addicted to this drug as a result of poorly supervised pain treatment after an injury or surgery, there is, even today, a thriving market for oxycodone from unlawful sources. Since the earliest cases of oxycodone abuse were reported in America's Appalachian mountain states, the drug came to be known as “hillbilly heroin,” but oxycodone abuse remains epidemic across the eastern United States and Canada.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Davis M, Goforth HW, Gamier P. Oxycodone combined with opioid receptor antagonists: efficacy and safety. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2013 Mar 28. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 23534906.
  • Fischer B, Argento E. Prescription opioid related misuse, harms, diversion and interventions in Canada: a review. Pain Physician. 2012 Jul. 15(3 Suppl):ES191-203. Review.PMID: 22786457.
  • Whelan E, Asbridge M. The OxyContin crisis: Problematisation and responsibilisation strategies inaddiction, pain, and general medicine journals. Int J Drug Policy. 2013 Feb 26. doi:pii: S0955-3959(13)00008-X. 10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.01.007. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 23452867.

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