Former OxyContin Users Are Turning To Heroin

by Mary Willis

OxyContin and other prescription drugs have grown in popularity over the past decade, but the rising price of the substance has many addicts looking for new ways to get high. Heroin has become a drug of choice for many prescription drug addicts, which allegedly offers the same high.

Both are opiates; both are addictive; both can cause death – that is what OxyContin and Heroin have in common. For some years, OxyContin addiction did not have the same stigma attached to it as heroin; after all, the powerful painkiller was prescribed by a doctor. Heroin was thought of as a “hard core” drug, used by serious addicts only – the kind of thing only people living on “Skid Row” would do. The lines have now been crossed and the rise in heroin use continues.

In Oregon, the price of heroin has dropped in comparison to OxyContin, according to The World Newspaper. As a result, more former OxyContin users have begun centering their lives around heroin. Approximately 60 people in Coos County will find themselves on the street, looking for the substance to get high, according to local authorities.

Toby Floyd, the head of a local drug treatment center, told the news source that heroin has always been OxyContin’s second cousin. While one OxyContin tablet costs about $60, a tenth of a gram of heroin sells for approximately $25. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration also approved a change in the prescription drug that makes it more difficult to extract its active ingredients.

Drug addiction costs the U.S. more than $484 billion every year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Drug rehab programs can help individuals suffering from substance dependency over time.

A surprising spike in heroin use is being seen across the U.S.A. The spike is due, in part, to the fact that people who had been using and addicted to OxyContin are now switching to heroin for a couple of reasons:

  • Heroin is more accessible; OxyContin requires a prescription from a physician to legally obtain the drug
  • Heroin is less expensive; OxyContin (purchased on the street) can cost as much as $50 per pill

The insidious drug (heroin) is finding its way into what has been considered mainstream society; which represents a potentially huge health problem.

An Oregon university recently became all too well acquainted with the effects of switching from OxyContin to Heroin. Between December, 2007 and April, 2008 two students have died from heroin overdoses. This school is relatively small and had never considered heroin as a potential problem. Many of the college’s students admitted to smoking marijuana; some to taking ecstasy, but heroin? No way. That is, until these two young people (one sophomore and one junior) died from heroin overdoses. The friends and families of both teens have been interviewed and the following was unearthed:

  • While neither family had any idea of drug abuse on the part of their children, they had observed changes in behavior
  • Both families noticed their teen’s grades were slipping and that they were missing school more often
  • Both young people had become more isolated; not checking in with family on a regular basis

Anyone familiar with addiction can tell you that all of the above are “red flags” and can be indicative of drug use and/or addiction. These families, however, having had no experience with addiction in the past, did not spot the warning signs.

Friends revealed:

  • Both teens had been prescribed OxyContin for sports-related injuries (the families were aware of this but not alarmed, knowing little about the powerful opiate)
  • Both continued to use the drug long after pain had subsided
  • Both eventually could no longer get OxyContin from their doctor, so they turned to using heroin

A small and conservative school, the campus has been rocked by these deaths and the revelation of heroin use on their campus. Like communities across the nation, this college is taking a hard look at drug use on campus and ways to combat it.

Although heroin use in on the rise around the country, law enforcement statistics reveal that most heroin is still purchased in big city environments, often spilling into the suburbs. It’s a matter of supply and demand; the demand is larger in cities, so prices are cheaper and attract more buyers. Because so many young people have cars, it is a short trip to buy their drug of choice in most cases. Even when cars are not readily accessible, most large cities can easily be reached by train, bus or other forms of public transportation. Police officers report that it is often difficult to arrest heroin dealers or addicts in the act of purchasing the drug. This is because, unlike many addicts, heroin users tend to buy from the first dealer they see. For some unknown reason, other addicts (crack, cocaine, etc.) seem to be “loyal” to their dealers, which make it easier for police to track. Heroin users are moving targets, so to speak, and are much more difficult to apprehend.

Symptoms of heroin use include:

  • Withdrawal from situations once enjoyed; isolation
  • Other changes in behavior, like excessive sleeping
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Paranoia
  • Stealing; addicts will steal from family, friends, anyone in order to buy their next ‘hit’
  • When the addict cannot access heroin withdrawal symptoms set in quickly and can include: nausea, vomiting, hyperventilation, chills, body aches and extreme restlessness

Perhaps, the best we can do is to make the public aware of the dangers of OxyContin; its addictive nature and the fact that it can, indeed, lead to heroin use, abuse and death.

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