Heroin: The New 'Gateway Drug' To OxyContin Addiction

Heroin: The New 'Gateway Drug' To OxyContin Addiction

Over the past year, the number of news reports about heroin abusers and addicts moving on to the prescription opioid painkiller OxyContin have increased exponentially. And case workers across the country are seeing more and more former heroin addicts arriving at treatment centers with an OxyContin addiction.

For example, in this week's Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Police Sgt. Kerry Rowland says OxyContin is the street "drug of choice", and has been nicknamed by the police with the sinister nickname, "the heroin of the Midwest."

Like all prescription drugs, OxyContin comes in a predictable dosage - the strength of an OxyContin pill is readily identifiable by its shape, size, color and markings. Addicts don't worry about overdosing on a batch that is more pure than another batch, or about not getting the expected 'high' because it's too weak.

Heroin addicts are also flocking to OxyContin because it isn't cut with potentially dangerous and unknown substances by drug peddlers. OxyContin is produced in laboratories, not messed around with in filthy, abandoned inner-city buildings.

"It's like the purest form of heroin I've ever done," a former heroin and OxyContin addict told the Inquirer. He said his OxyContin addiction led to a "spree of drugstore robberies last year - and to prison. Absolutely it was just as addictive [as heroin]."

Since OxyContin popped up on the illicit market about a year ago, police in the Cincinnati area have confiscated more than 13,000 doses. And it's the same story in cities, towns and even rural areas across the country. There's nowhere you can go today that you cannot find OxyContin for sale from drug peddlers, many who used to trade in heroin or cocaine. If addicts weren't there in high numbers demanding the drug, this wouldn't be the case.

"They'll kick a bag of cocaine out of the way to get to Oxy," said Detective Roger Hall of the Harlan County Sheriff's Department in Kentucky. "We did a drug roundup back in September. We arrested 76 people, and 45 were trafficking in OxyContin."

The synthetic opioid oxycodone, derived from opium, is the active ingredient that causes OxyContin addiction. OxyContin is a time-release formula, intended to slowly release the drug over a period of hours. But all heroin addicts, and many other OxyContin abusers, crush the pills to defeat the time-release properties, and then snort the powder, or dissolve and inject the drug - just like heroin.

When abused for even a short time, OxyContin is every bit as addictive as heroin. In fact, it is so stunningly addictive that last year, drugmaker Purdue Pharmaceuticals was fined a staggering $634 million for willfully misleading regulators and doctors as to its addictiveness.

Many people, and possibly most people, who have an OxyContin addiction and try to get off the drug, just give up and go back on the drug. According to heroin addicts who also abuse OxyContin, quitting OxyContin is just like quitting heroin - in other words, it can be hell.

"You feel the same withdrawal symptoms - the worst flu you ever had," the former heroin and OxyContin addict told the Inquirer. "You sweat. You vomit. You can't control your bowels, and you shake and you wish you would die. The only relief is more [OxyContin ]."

Fortunately, there is a safer, more confrontable approach than the "cold-turkey" withdrawal described above, or the usual cookie-cutter, on-size-fits-all' OxyContin withdrawal programs out there. Called 'medical drug detox', the approach provides a clinical setting with 24/7 medical supervision during withdrawal. Special drugs that reduce discomfort are also used if needed.

Good medical drug detox also factors in each patient's unique metabolism, health level and nutritional needs, and takes into account personal and emotional needs, all designed to make the withdrawal experience much easier, and much more effective.

Anyone in the grip of an OxyContin addiction should look for a medical drug detox center with a proven record offering all these types of services. When done the right way, OxyContin detox can be accomplished in a matter of days with little or none of the horrible withdrawal symptoms.

Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.

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