Article by Khoi Nguyen
We have seen the need for OxyContin addiction treatment skyrocket within recent years. With the recent news of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Anna Nicole Smith due to prescription drug overdose, one may think of prescription drug addiction as a celebrity problem, but this overshadows a larger societal issue. In the US, prescription drugs are abused more than heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy combined. In the documentary film by Vanguard called “The OxyContin Express”, the appeal, ease of acquisition, and dangers of the drug Oxycodone, or as it is more commonly referred to, OxyContin (brand name), are revealed.
Appeal and Abuse
OxyContin is basically heroin made in a legal lab as opposed to heroin bought in the streets. Because OxyContin is made under strict pharmaceutical guidelines, users know exactly what they are getting. Users heat the pills and shoot them or crush the pills and inject or snort them. When given the opportunity, users prefer purchasing pills from the pharmacy or a doctor instead of purchasing heroin from a drug dealer.
Ease of Acquisition
In Florida there is a booming OxyContin and prescription drug industry operated by health clinics and “pain management” centers. The number of this type of business tripled in 2008. In a local newspaper, the last 10 pages are devoted just to these businesses. The nation’s top 50 dispensing doctors operate in FL.
Why is FL so popular for prescription drugs?
A major reason is that there is no prescription drug monitoring program in the state. There is no database that tracks what pills you are getting and in what amount. Users are able to go to multiple doctors and obtain multiple prescriptions, an activity known as “doctor shopping”.
In most states, doctors are not able to dispense pills on-site because it creates a financial incentive to prescribe more pills than needed. In Florida, they can. These clinics do not provide a diagnosis or provide therapy. They only prescribe medication and they only accept cash.
These reasons all account for Florida being the nation’s leader in dispensing OxyContin (85% of the total). The rest of the country has figured out how easy it is and has taken advantage of this liberal policy of buying pills. These clinics and doctors are legalized drug dealers said to be engaged in flagrant criminal activity. They are in business only as a front established by non-physicians who hire retired physicians to prescribe pills to addicts.
Dangers and Risks
In Florida, 75% of drug-related deaths are due to prescription drugs and 11 people die a day. One user who died of an overdose was prescribed 1,500 pills in less than 2 months. It is very difficult to get off OxyContin and most die before they have the chance.
Many users sell pills illegally to support their habit. Pills that cost $3 each from the pharmacy can sell for up to $30. The consequences for selling are great. Dealers of OxyContin typically receive 2 to 7 years of prison time and it is easier for authorities to go after them than the doctors who prescribe the pills.
Addressing the Issue
This escalating problem has finally been addressed by the state of Florida. In July, the governor approved a law that would create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program that goes into effect at the end of 2010. Although a lot of irreparable damage has been done and lives have been lost, this is a start to helping those already affected and preventing abuse by potential new users.