For some time now, addiction clinics and local law enforcement throughout North America have been witness to a disturbing and rising trend involving the use of opioid narcotics. This family of drugs, which includes morphine and codeine, are made from the opium poppy and act upon the opioid receptors in the brain (the same sensors that natural endorphins bind to). It’s this rewriting of brain chemistry that makes them so dangerous. Years ago, the granddaddy these was heroin. It was, and still is, an insidious substance, primarily because of the feeling of well-being that accompanies the physical high.
It’s ironic that heroin was originally created as a non-addictive alternative to morphine, so named because of its “heroic” painkilling properties. However, doctors soon realized that—in terms of addiction and withdrawal—they had something far worse than morphine on their hands. As the decades wore on, heroin clearly established itself as the undeniable king of life-devastating substances. Famous individuals, both in recent years and in decades gone by, have succumbed to its empty charms; Jim Morrison, River Phoenix, Janis Joplin and John Belushi all had a reputation of “dancing with Mr. Brownstone”, and paid dearly for it. But as terrible as heroin was, its dirty reputation as a horrific life-destroyer was always there to protect would-be abusers. Many individuals who smoked pot or dropped acid admitted that they would not touch “Captain Jack” with a ten-foot pole.
A New Trend: Oxycontin and Other Prescription Narcotics
Recently, however, there has been an alarming shift in North America. Instead of turning to the hugely illegal charms of heroin, addicts are now spending much more money and effort acquiring prescription narcotics that do much the same thing for them. Medications like Percocet and Dilaudid are being used more and more as recreational pharmaceuticals, and are just as likely to be found on the street as they are behind the counter of your local Walgreens or Shoppers Drug Mart.
But the prescription narcotic most closely associated with addicts is the infamous Oxycontin. Originally designed to treat major forms of chronic pain—in terminal cancer patients, for instance—this harmless-looking pill is designed to release a steady dose of oxycodone (the same medication found in Percocet) over a 12-hour period. Addicts have learned to crush the pills so that they can get the full amount of active ingredients in one swift dose, either by swallowing it or injecting it. The resulting high is remarkably similar to heroin, and abuse of this drug can be deadly.
Why Users Prefer Pills
Many drug addicts feel Oxycontin is a much safer choice than heroin. Because it is a factory-made product, users can be certain of the exact amount of active oxycodone they are receiving in each dose. The strength of street drugs, on the other hand, can vary widely from dealer to dealer and location to location; this is one of the most common reasons for accidental overdose. In addition, individuals can be certain that Oxycontin has not been cut with another drug or some other dangerous substance, such as strychnine. What you see is what you get.
Signs and Symptoms of Abuse
For friends and family members of Oxycontin addicts, luckily there are many signs and symptoms that they can look out for. These include psychological and social symptoms (addicts are typically great liars, and may be making excuses to explain where they may have spent a large amount of money) as well as physical symptoms, such as sluggishness and apathy. Signs of withdrawal are even more obvious; a heavy Oxycontin user can get extremely ill if deprived of their drug for even a short period of time.
It’s unfortunate, but the sheer strength of these prescription narcotics has been one of the biggest problems of all. Many individuals who would never have become addicts in the first place have found themselves physically dependant on these pills after their doctor has over-prescribed them. Addicted patients resort to doctor-shopping, stealing the pills and passing fake prescriptions. Although many parts of the United States and Canada have taken action to fight Oxycontin addiction, there is still a very long way to go.