Oxycodone prescription availability on the street is reaching epidemic proportions, and we are seeing the results of its destruction at Mission Unity Treatment Services. Of the patients we detox, 70-80 percent is addicted to oxycodone, and it’s not an age-specific drug of choice. These patients range from 14 to 70 years of age.
The version of oxycodone currently being used is the 30mg tablet, called Roxicodone – the generic brand of oxycodone HCL. It’s six times more powerful than the prescribed painkiller Percocet, which is available in the 5mg oxycodone version; and it is not uncommon for patients arriving at Mission Unity Treatment Services Detox to be using 10 to 15 of the 30mg tablets a day. To put this into perspective, that’s 60-95 Percocet’s each day!
Oxycodone is formulated for slow release over a period of 12 hours. Addicts have learned to circumvent the slow release mechanism of oxycodone by crushing the tablet and swallowing or snorting (the most common method); smoking tablets with a flame held under aluminum foil; or dissolving the crushed tablet in water and injecting the solution for a more rapid and intense high. Only occasionally do users swallow the pills as intended, since the slow release is an obstacle to the desired high intensity and fast results. Many abusers of oxycodone mix it into a toxic cocktail with alcohol or other popular street drugs, such as cocaine.
Though a lot of our younger patients became addicted to oxycodone after being turned on by friends or out of curiosity, many patients first became addicted to oxycodone due to a painful injury. Oxycodone is quite effective when used as intended. It works as an analgesic for mild to moderate pain control, chronic pain syndromes, and treatment for terminal cancer pain. Oxycodone acts as a depressant on the central nervous system; and when misused, it can elicit euphoric responses.
Opiates, such as oxycodone, seem to be the current preferred drug of choice for several reasons:
- They are readily available through forged prescriptions; unscrupulous pharmacists, doctors and dentists; large-scale thefts; and the most popular method – doctor shopping, where dealers and addicts visit multiple doctors and pharmacies to amass large amounts of oxycodone.
- There is even a black market for MRI’s. Typically an MRI is needed to obtain a pain pill prescription. Unscrupulous radiologists or other clinicians are providing them.
- Unlike alcohol, opiates are odorless and, therefore, less detectable.
- Opiates provide a wide range of benefits to the user, including increased energy, ability to work longer hours, a greater sense of focus, and blocking the user’s feelings. They provide a sense of well being to the addict at times when reality may look bleak and hopeless, as well as a defense against painful, emotional feelings.
Adding to Florida’s Problem
Curtailing the misuse of oxycodone meets with many obstacles:
- Currently, Florida doesn’t have a centralized database to record the flow of such drugs from doctor to pharmacy to buyer and includes patient prescription histories. These exist in 35 other states, reducing the time it takes law enforcement to investigate a doctor-shopping case from about six months to mere weeks. With such a program, specialized crime units are able to function with only a few investigators.
- Current Florida laws make illegal drug abuse a priority over the intentional misuse of legal prescription drugs, according to state Senator Dave Aronber, D-Greenacres. That means only a handful of Florida agencies have created dedicated units to combat this problem.
- To investigate doctors who intentionally overprescribe or patients who stockpile prescription drugs to sell is a specialized field of investigation, requiring unavailable funding for the physical space and equipment, the manpower and training in these investigative techniques.
- Even more disconcerting, families of oxycodone addicts don’t take such addictions seriously. Society views prescription drugs as safe, because they are legal. Many assume the problem will take care of itself – until it’s too late and they have lost their loved ones.
Problems for Users
With oxycodone, users quickly develop dependence for the drug, some after only a few uses. Dosage tolerance develops quickly, as well, causing the addict to increase daily dosages rapidly and regularly. As such, overdoses happen faster with oxycodone than with other drugs. Oxycodone users find themselves physically dependant after only a few days of usage.
Prescription drugs now kill more people in Florida than all non-prescription drugs combined. An early 2008 study by The National Center for Health Statistics showed that prescription drugs, such as oxycodone and Vicodin, killed five times more people than heroin and almost twice the number as cocaine. Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office’s post-mortem toxicologic studies for 2007 showed there were 241 deaths from drug overdoses, compared to 106 by homicide and 206 by traffic fatalities. Of the 241 deaths, 138 were caused solely by prescription drugs with only 95 actually having legal prescriptions, 50 were solely from illegal drugs, and 53 were from toxic cocktails of illegal and prescriptions drugs. The Sheriff’s Office, which tracks their own statistics, show 303 deaths from drug overdoses in 2007 and projected over 400 for 2008.
Statewide, Florida has been ranked only second to California in deaths due to drug overdose for individuals older than 26 years. Texas and New York, which is more populous than Florida, come in third and fourth, respectively. That’s alarming. Though the Southwest Florida region seems to have the worse problem with misuse of prescription drugs, the entire state has an increasing problem with drug overdoses.
Another problem for addicts is getting help. Despite expansion of detox beds in virtually every county across Florida, waiting lists have only gotten longer, mainly due to oxycodone addictions. This leaves many addicts going through withdrawal from their drug addiction in jail or the hospital without the assistance of skilled specialists.
Lastly, many addicts who go through detox experience recidivism (relapse), which is high among oxycodone-addicted patients. We have found that patients who choose to enroll in our group and/or individual counseling sessions, however, experience a much higher rate of success and far less recidivism. Significant research has shown that medical detoxification alone may have little lasting effect without a rigorous program of recovery that includes psychotherapy and substance abuse group therapy. Without patients discovering the root of their addictive behavior, relapse is highly probable.
While oxycodone provides some positive qualities in its initial stages of use, oxycodone quickly develops into dependency and enslavement, extracting a heavy price mentally, emotionally and physically for its use. As always, it is best to learn to accept life on life’s terms without the need to self-medicate.
For more information go to missionunity.org