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Why Is OxyContin Legal?

If Heroin is Illegal, Why Is OxyContin Legal?


Many of our OxyContin detox patients, especially those who have experience with both OxyContin and heroin, have asked: “If heroin is illegal, why is OxyContin legal?”

It’s a reasonable question. The drugs are chemically similar, they are equally addictive, and heroin and OxyContin are considered very difficult to withdraw from. We couldn’t change their chemistry or addictiveness. But we did do something about the misery of withdrawal.


Thanks to Novus Medical Detox Center of Pasco County, Florida, now people suffering from opioid addiction or dependence can comfortably get through an OxyContin detox program.

“The people here showed me that there is light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel that I thought I would never make it out of.”

OxyContin and Heroin Facts—FDA Testimony

On May 5, 2009, the FDA invited Novus to provide testimony before a special FDA committee that was investigating what Risk Evaluation Mitigation Strategies (“REMS”) to impose on dangerous prescription narcotics like OxyContin.

During our testimony, we stated that this is known about heroin and OxyContin:

  • Heroin was initially advertised as being less addictive than morphine and widely promoted in the United States for the treatment of pain and respiratory problems;
  • Because of its addictive qualities, heroin was made illegal in 1914;
  • OxyContin was released to the public in 1995;
  • Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, pled guilty to lying to the FDA, doctors and the public in 2007;
  • Purdue Pharma’s influential friends saw to it that OxyContin stayed on the market even though equal application of the law required that Purdue Pharma not be allowed to do business with the government;
  • Heroin and OxyContin are molecularly almost identical;
  • Heroin and OxyContin operate in the same manner in the body;
  • Heroin and OxyContin are interchangeable and addicts regularly use the one that is available;
  • OxyContin is easily obtained from a number of doctors who prescribe it for any excuse as long as the patient can pay for the office visit;
  • According to the studies cited in the March 2008 issue of Pain Physician, use of narcotics like OxyContin in the treatment of non-cancer pain patients has little benefit and many side effects.

Our question was: “Why Is Heroin Illegal and OxyContin Legal?”

“One of our patients, a former heroin addict who used OxyContin when he couldn’t get heroin and heroin when he couldn’t get OxyContin, but preferred OxyContin even though it was more expensive because it was safer, asked, ‘Why is heroin illegal and OxyContin legal?’”

There was silence from the panel and, unfortunately, there was no way that they could be compelled to answer.

Massachusetts State Senator Steven Tolman


The reaction was much different when we were asked to testify before Massachusetts State Senator Steven Tolman’s panel on OxyContin and heroin abuse on May 15, 2009. Senator Tolman is not your typical politician. He is a tall, straight talking man who lists his home phone number on his business card. Senator Tolman doesn’t sit in a plush office and read about the “statistics” of death caused by heroin and OxyContin—legal heroin—and do nothing.

OxyContin and Heroin Commission

Senator Tolman’s OxyContin and Heroin Commission is appropriately named. The Senator understands that it is just “drug company speak” to imply that OxyContin is not interchangeable with heroin.

When he spoke to us after we testified, he was proudest of his ability to help some kids get off OxyContin and heroin, not by getting on methadone, but by getting treatment and being off all drugs.

Senator Tolman feels so strongly about how these drugs are destroying the lives of so many of the young people in Massachusetts that he is on a mission to make sure that the state of Massachusetts actually provides real help—not just words. He tells people that it is not just something nice to do but, in addition to saving lives, really having a solution to these drug problems will save the taxpayers of Massachusetts hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Senator Tolman wrote the following article that appeared in the Boston Globe May 11, 2009.

The deadly epidemic no one’s addressing

“…taxpayers are being robbed… Families are having their loved ones stolen…”

MASSACHUSETTS taxpayers are being robbed. Families are having their loved ones stolen from them and taxpayer dollars are lost in a system wrought with inefficiencies and gaps in care. This epidemic is silent because of the stigma, shame, and heartache that the disease of addiction places on families. OxyContin and heroin addiction continues to be a devastating issue, but there is a lack of outrage over this decade-long tragedy.

Since there are promising alternatives that will save both lives and hundreds of millions of state dollars, now is the time to break the silence and make reforms to Massachusetts drug policy.

There are numerous pathways to addiction. Some citizens receive prescriptions for OxyContin for pain after an injury, while adolescents and others experiment with pain medications from medicine cabinets. Synthetic or natural opioids are heavily addictive; the long-term neurobiological changes opioid dependency exacts on the brain are profound and make the disease difficult to treat with an outdated infrastructure.

“We are losing citizens at home at a rate 42 times greater than we are losing our soldiers in war.”

Since 2003, overdoses, primarily from OxyContin and heroin, have exceeded motor vehicle deaths as the leading cause of injury-related death in Massachusetts. Between 2002 and 2007, the state lost 78 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same time period, 3,265 residents died of opiate-related overdoses. We are losing citizens at home at a rate 42 times greater than we are losing our soldiers in war. Yet, these gut-wrenching stories rarely make headlines, and little is being done to examine the problem and implement solutions.

Private insurers have drastically reduced payments for substance abuse treatment; taxpayers contribute more than 75 percent of the dollars spent on substance abuse services in Massachusetts. In fact, private insurance payments for substance abuse treatment decreased 1.1 percent annually from 1991 to 2001, while public payments increased by 6.8 percent each year. As shocking as these statistics are, they cannot portray the heartache, frustration, and despair in the thousands of households around the Commonwealth.

“18,000 individuals were treated in emergency rooms for opioid-related overdoses in 2005. These hospital stays alone cost the state nearly $200 million.”

In 2007, 1,300 people received five or more acute treatment services or “detoxes” through MassHealth. I believe that long-term treatment programs and diversion from jail are essential to remaking our treatment infrastructure. Targeted investment, efficiencies in the system, and changes in policy will save hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and associated costs on state and municipal governments. For example, 18,000 individuals were treated in emergency rooms for opioid-related overdoses in 2005. These hospital stays alone cost the state nearly $200 million.

“Families have described reviving their dying children with Narcan, or having them arrested for felony drug charges to get them off the streets.”

Recently, the OxyContin and Heroin Commission, established during the 2007-2008 legislative session, held the second in a series of public hearings throughout the state. The commission’s purpose is to investigate the levels of addiction to OxyContin and heroin, study the laws regarding treatment, gauge the epidemic’s cost on state services, and offer solutions. We’ve heard from parents who have emptied bank accounts or remortgaged homes paying for private treatment because insurance won’t cover long-term care. Families have described reviving their dying children with Narcan, or having them arrested for felony drug charges to get them off the streets. Otherwise good people appear in our courtrooms, end up in jail or the ER, or spend a lifetime on harm-reduction medication because there is no clear path to recovery.

“Substance abuse is a national problem…”

This problem will not be fully addressed overnight; policy recommendations must be comprehensive solutions to the overall campaign against addiction. The commission’s objective is to find the proper treatment outcomes, efficiently spend taxpayer money, and return addicted loved ones to their families. Substance abuse is a national problem, demand for illicit drugs in the United States continues to rise, and the connection with foreign policy makes this problem all the more urgent. National and state leaders must work together to implement effective treatment measures. With all of the efforts to fix economic systems, repair roads and bridges, and revamp the healthcare system, addiction treatment cannot be left out of the equation.

OxyContin vs. Heroin Conclusion

“A majority is one man with courage.”

Sometimes it seems almost naïve to think that ordinary citizens can effectively take on a corrupt drug company that has hundreds of millions of dollars to use to make political donations and pay lobbyists. Sometimes in the middle of this struggle it is difficult to take seriously the words of Thomas Jefferson, “A majority is one man with courage.”


We develop an individualized medical detox program specifically for each of our patients, which means no recovery will look the same. Our delicious food, nutritional IVs and supplements, and specialized detox protocols are all designed to quicken the healing process. We understand that various addictions present a number of issues for the human body, so we create our IVs and diets to fit the needs of specific withdrawal symptoms.

Our process is all about you, which is why we have private and shared rooms available for our residents. Each room is outfitted with a TV, telephone, and access to the internet. We also provide educational classes that will show you how the drug or alcohol of your choice affects your body. We believe that to effectively fight off your withdrawal symptoms, it is important to know what you are fighting against and what to be prepared for.

To learn more about how we can help you,
call (855) 464-8550 today!

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