Oxycodone: In the news
Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 2:42 pm
In just a few short years after it was introduced, OxyContin became the best-selling narcotic in the United States. As of 2001, the drug’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, was earning an estimated $1 billion a year from sales of OxyContin alone. But as quickly as the drug became popular for legitimate use as a highly effective painkiller, its popularity surged among drug abusers.
Ironically, OxyContin, which was approved by the FDA in 1995, was originally thought to pose a low risk of abuse because of its controlled-release design. The protective outer coating slows digestion of the pill and allows a large dose of oxycodone to be released in small amounts over 12 hours. However, abusers quickly discovered that by crushing or chewing the pills, they could release the oxycodone and snort the powder or mix it with water and inject it for a fast high. This method proved especially powerful when the drug was combined with alcohol or other drugs — a practice known in street terms as “pharming.”
The street value of OxyContin appears to be enormous. While other painkillers such as Vicodin, Percodan, and Percocet sell for about $6 to $8 apiece on the street, OxyContin may sell for as much as $20 to $40 for just one 40-mg pill to more than $100 for one 160-mg pill.
OxyContin’s street value and appeal to drug abusers has led to a rise in a phenomenon known as doctor shopping, in which people visit multiple doctors and attempt to acquire prescriptions for their own use or to sell for profit.
Some pharmacies have refused to stock OxyContin, fearing robberies and attacks on their employees. Scattered reports have even suggested that patients with legal prescriptions keep their use of the drug secret for fear they might become targets of abusers trying to steal their pills. A few hospitals have limited OxyContin use to cancer patients only, leading some health officials to fear that patients who need the drug may not be able to get it. As of 2001, at least seven states had tried to make it more difficult for patients on Medicaid, the national health insurance program for the poor, to obtain OxyContin prescriptions. In December 2001, Purdue Pharma announced it was working on a new chemical design of OxyContin that would not produce the highs that cause people to become addicted.