How Oxycontin Caused an Increase in Heroin Abuse

When Purdue Pharma released a new, abuse-resistant version of Oxycontin in 2010, many thought we had taken a solid step toward reducing the abuse of prescription drugs. As it turns out, they were correct; the new coating on Oxycontin did reduce prescription drug abuse. A study released by the drug manufacturer reported that since the reformulation of the drug, the number of addicts who abused Oxycontin fell 30% since the reformulation of the drug. So the new pills have changed the world. Purdue Pharma should get a Nobel prize out of this deal, right?

Wrong. In Purdue Pharma’s haste to praise the success of the new Oxycontin, they failed to mention one tiny little detail: instead of curbing drug use, the new Oxycontin has driven former addicts to heroin.

The New OxyContin

While a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine corroborated Purdue Pharma’s claims that illicit OxyContin use had dropped, the study also found that since the introduction of the new drug, the number of users admitting recent heroin use doubled. Nothing like replacing a big problem with another big problem.

Cheaper and more effective

The price difference between drugs doesn’t help either. While OxyContin can cost as much as $100 per 80mg pill, one heroin fix can cost as little as $5.

Dr. Theodore Cicero, professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, warned FoxNews about the new dangers that come with the rise of heroin use.

“People are going from an essentially safe medication with known, specified doses to a powder that their dealer is telling them is heroin. There’s no way to know if that’s true, and the purity is uncertain [because heroin can be cut with other substances]. People who are switching suddenly aren’t sure what they’re getting, and overdose is likely to occur. I think it will happen more often with heroin now.”

Not quite “tamper-proof”

While some have made the switch to heroin, other users are dedicating their creativity to discovering new ways to get around the new abuse-resistant coating. A simple Google search provides page after page of examples of different ingenious ways of getting past Purdue Pharma’s so called breakthrough. One bizarre method includes a microwave and another Coca-Cola (you can’t make this stuff up).

While props should be given to Purdue Pharma for at least making an attempt to curb drug abuse, one can’t help but wonder. . . aren’t we looking at fixing this problem the wrong way?

The Underlying Problem

This attempt reflects the fact that society still fails to grasp the concept that drug use is no longer a choice for users; the average person just doesn’t understand that those addicted to a drug needs that substance to feel “normal.”

In an article for, Jeffrey Stuckert, a physician of 29 years, explains the intense need an addict’s brain has for a drug: “[T]he excessive stimulation of the reward pathway by an opioid ‘tricks’ the brain into believing that an opioid is as necessary for survival as food and water.”

As a society, we tend to focus on the substance rather than those who are sick. This is made evident by a silly little thing called sin tax. The government has this flawed perception that by taxing something addictive, you will think maybe you can’t afford it. But raising taxes certainly hasn’t stopped people from buying cigarettes. It’s like saying that if we raised the price of food, people would stop eating.

Um, no. The more difficult food would be to obtain, the more desperate people would become in their methods of attaining it. Food junkies would begin doing crazy things for food, like breaking into a supermarket or eating something potentially dangerous.

If something like a sin tax doesn’t work to discourage people from needing their nicotine, how will making Oxycontin more difficult to obtain discourage a person from getting an opiate fix from somewhere else, especially when that other source is cheaper and more effective?

Our problem is that we’ve been focusing on the drugs rather than focusing on the individuals suffering from the disease.

We don’t need a war on drugs.

We need to battle addiction.