Oxy Watchdog

Keeping An Eye On OxyContin

Posts Tagged ‘oxy-to-heroin’

The end of a journey

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on February 4, 2015

1930428_612120663129_8445_nDear Oxy Watchdog readers,

Six years ago, very shortly after my brother Pat’s death of a heroin overdose, I decided that I wanted to do something to increase awareness about the epidemic of prescription painkiller and opiate addiction in America today. This blog, launched just a few months after Pat passed away, was intended to be a place where people could come to learn more about a problem that is increasingly affecting families across the nation. But it became much more than that. Through the blog, many people from various walks of life reached out to me and shared their own stories. Sometimes these stories were from other families who had lost loved ones, filling me with sadness at the tragic loss of life and the horrors of addiction. Sometimes these stories were from chronic pain sufferers who were indignant at what they saw as my mission to interfere with their medications. Sometimes these stories were from addicts themselves who spoke openly about their own challenges and the heartbreak their drug use had caused them.

What these stories illustrate is clear: we have a problem in this country with prescription painkillers. They are responsible for more than 16,000 deaths each year, and the widespread abuse of opioids has triggered a resurgence in the use of heroin. But even after six years of running this blog, when it comes to fixing this problem, I don’t have the answer. I agree that stricter prescribing rules are probably a good thing, and that state prescription monitoring databases can help us understand the scope of the problem and identify drug seekers and pill pushers. But from what I have observed, these measures have had the unintended effect of driving many people hooked on pain pills to use heroin, so that isn’t fixing the problem either. I also strongly believe that there is a time and a place for opioids. My father battled chronic lymphocytic leukemia for nine years before dying at age 47, and opioids undoubtedly eased his suffering and improved his quality of life. But it is important to note that opioids were originally intended for a very specific medical purpose: to treat short-term post-surgical and trauma-related pain, and for palliative care. The fact is that these drugs carry a substantial risk of addiction: numerous studies have shown that at least 15% and as many as 40% of patients will become addicted to opioids—even when taken as prescribed.

My brother was a wonderful person, full of laughter and love and light. He was the opposite of what you think of when you picture an IV heroin user. And while there are many factors that likely contributed to his substance abuse—including the fact that addiction is a brain disease with a genetic component—it is difficult to ignore the larger context; that our market is flooded with powerful painkillers, which too often fall into the wrong hands. In 2010, 254 million prescriptions for such drugs were filled in the U.S.—enough to medicate every adult in America around the clock for a month. Pat was just one of those recipients, and his progression from pill abuse to fatal heroin overdose is not uncommon. In 2010, almost 3,000 young adults age 18-25 died of pill overdoses—eight deaths a day. And heroin is making a comeback because it provides the same high, but is vastly cheaper—use of the street drug is up by a staggering 45%.

In addition to this blog, I have spent the last six years working on a book, Generation Rx. The book, published in August 2014, details my brother’s addiction and death, interspersed with stories of others whose lives have been affected by opiate addiction. I felt it was important to speak openly about what happened to Pat, because if it happened to him, it could happen to anyone. Our society as a whole still stigmatizes addiction, so the struggles of those affected by this epidemic are shrouded in shame. My hope is that my book, and this blog, will help change that. I have often struggled with the question of how Pat would feel about the sharing of some very intimate details of his addiction and death. Sometimes I think he’d be okay with it, since one of his greatest qualities was his desire to help others; sometimes I think he’d be hurt, embarrassed and angry. It has also been extremely difficult to throw my family’s story into the public eye, though they’ve been supportive of my mission to further awareness.

Six years ago today, we received the phone call no one ever wants to get. Six years ago feels like yesterday; I can still feel the warmth of Pat’s hug and hear his goofy giggle. I have spent the last six years trying to come to terms with the fact that I will never see Pat again, to give him a legacy, to feel that his death was not in vain and—though I’d give anything to have it be otherwise—to believe that in death, he has helped others. It has been a long six years, and now that Generation Rx is published, I will be stepping away from Oxy Watchdog to focus on what lies ahead for me and my family. While I will no longer be updating the blog with news items, I hope that the resources and personal stories contained here will continue to be useful to others.

Thanks for reading.

Erin Marie Daly

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Heroin use increases in Utah, abusers younger than ever

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on October 21, 2010

As abuse of heroin in Utah climbs upward, authorities are finding the age of users is going down, sometimes as young as 13 or 14 years old, reports this article on ksl.com. Though OxyContin and marijuana tend to be more popular among youths, the costly price drives them to a less expensive alternative. The fact that the dealers have become extremely sophisticated – often making heroin easier to obtain than cigarettes or alcohol for teens – makes the problem more prevalent. Though the cost of heroin is cheaper for users in the Salt Lake City area, the average age of whom is 16 to 23, the cost can be far more deadly since the drug is now 60 percent pure, whereas in the 1970s it was only three percent pure.

Read about the Oxy-to-heroin trend among teens here.

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Percocet abuse threatens OxyContin’s hold on teen users

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on October 10, 2010

Though prescription drug abuse has skyrocketed in the past ten years with the painkiller OxyContin as the main drug of choice, teen users may now be switching to a similar prescription opiate, Percocet. According to this article in Wicked Local Bridgewater, Massachusetts police report an increase in Percocet-related crime in the past few months. Possible reasons for the switch include a lower price-tag – Percocet sells for $30 per tablet as compared to the $80 price tag on OxyContin – as well as more availability in the wake of the state’s crackdown on OxyContin. Like Oxy, Percocet contains oxycodone, is a Schedule II narcotic, and is a highly addictive “gateway” drug which may lead to stronger street drugs such as heroin.

Read more about Massachusetts’ battle with Oxy here.

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Congress examines interstate prescription drug abuse

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on October 7, 2010

In the midst of an ever-growing prescription drug abuse epidemic in the U.S., a congressional caucus met late September to examine interstate cooperation of prescription monitoring programs to better prevent doctor shopping, reports this article form Wicked Local Watertown.

Massachusetts Senator Steven Tolman testified before the caucus about the importance of sharing prescription data among states. Tolman oversees a state in which opiates like heroin and OxyContin are now the leading cause of death for young people, causing nearly 15 such deaths per week.

“Oxy hijacks your brain,” Sen. Tolman told OxyWatchdog in a July 2010 interview. “It grabs you. And it’s $80 a pill versus $4 for a bag of heroin. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s in every community.”

To read more about prescription drug abuse monitoring programs, go here.
Read about Mass. struggle with OxyContin here.

Posted in Policy & Regulation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Watchdog Reports: Panel says doctors, Internet main instigator of prescription drug abuse

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on September 24, 2010

Two large bottles of liquid oxycondone proved a powerful visual for the practice of over-prescribing pain medication that leads to or aids in prescription drug abuse at Wednesday’s panel presentation discussing the growing national trend, hosted by Chico State University in California.

The three-hour panel presentation was put together by Not in our Town Glenn County, managed by Jim Bettencourt and attend by 60 students, parents and community members. OxyWatchdog contributor Esmeralda F. Ramirez was there to hear what the panel had to say.

According to Bettencourt, the irresponsibility of doctors prescribing an excess of a drug is not uncommon and many physicians do not screen patients to see what is in their bodies. When a patient in pain is asking for a large amount of Vicodin, for example, the physician should ask for a simple urine test to check for existing medication in the patient’s system and prescribe the necessary amount of drugs, he said.

When patients want more than what they are prescribed, it’s a sign that they have become addicted, said Salvadore Biondolillo of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which is sponsoring this Saturday’s Take-Back Day. A classic example, he said, is a patient that has been taking hydrocodone, then switches to oxycodone, then OxyContin, and finally to heroin because it is much cheaper than prescription drugs.

A dangerous online world

If someone with an addiction cannot get enough of their prescription drug of choice from a physician, they go online, according to Biondolillo. Websites are one of the reasons prescription drug abuse has been increasing in the past few years, he said: there are sites that contain a multitude of information for many kinds of prescription drugs, and it is difficult to monitor all of them. Biondolillo refers to the Internet as “the perfect storm” because prescriptions that come from overseas are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or are often placebos, he said.

Drugs next door

Another way addicts find prescription drugs is through friends, family or street sells, Biondolillo said. When physicians prescribe a excessive amount of drugs, there are bound to be leftovers, said Lee Snook, medical director of the Metropolitan Pain Management Consultants Inc. There are a lot of cases in which the leftovers are divided and sold on the street or are given for free to friends and family as experimentation, he said.

A generation of young addicts

The best place to discuss and educate the community about the rising problem of prescription drug abuse is in colleges throughout the U.S., according to Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy, research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). College is where young people start to experiment, she said, and prescription drug abuse on many college campuses is rampant.

One interesting sidenote: a study by CASA found that in the early 1990s, those that used prescription drugs to get high were people who had already been using illicit drugs such as cocaine or heroin, Foster said. In the early- to mid-2000s, however, the study showed that prescription drug abuse was coming from high school and college students, she said. They were experimenting with those drugs, replacing marijuana as the experimentation drug historically common among younger generations.

There are different reasons why people begin abusing illicit drugs and other substances, Foster noted. But when it comes to prescription drugs, advertising – to which young people are particularly susceptible – plays a role because it creates a mindset that everything can be cured with a pill.

“We have to change the culture of this disorder,” Foster said.

Pills as life-threatening as guns

Although the choice is always up to the individual, parents play a big role in helping their children stay away from prescription drugs, according to Snook. Prescription drugs are like guns, he said. They both kill, and they both need to be locked away from children and disposed of properly if they are not needed anymore.

Snook, for his part, tries to help people recover because he himself is a former addict and understands the hardships associated with addiction.

“I see Satan’s eyes in the person I’m trying to save,” Snook said.

By Esmeralda F. Ramirez, exclusive to OxyWatchdog

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Man steals baby food to support heroin addiction

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on September 19, 2010

A trend among abusers of the painkiller OxyContin is to switch to heroin, which costs less and is often easier to obtain – a trend exemplified by Sean Roderick of Massachusetts. Roderick, 30, recently pleaded guilty to stealing baby formula from a supermarket with the intention to resell it in order to support his heroin addiction, reports this article on Seacoastonline.com. Though Roderick told the judge he is committed to beating an addiction stemming from the OxyContin he was prescribed for knee surgery, the judge holds little hope.

“From this court’s experience, we’re going to see Mr. Roderick back again,” said the judge, according to the article. “It happens in every heroin case.”

To read more about the Oxy-to-heroin trend, go here.

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Watchdog Editorial: Don’t forget the ‘dorm rats’

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on September 4, 2010

The latest issue of Time Magazine has an alarming article on the “national epidemic of pill popping and accidental overdosing.” The article details how the medical community’s increased focus on acute and chronic pain, combined with Big Pharma’s bounty of powerful painkillers like OxyContin, has led to a tenfold increase in prescriptions for opioids in the U.S. since 1990. And “most experts agree that nothing but the exploding availability of opioids could be behind the exploding rate of death,” the article says.

According to the article, the people most affected by opiate abuse are mostly baby boomers – “so-called naive users in the 35-to-64 age group” who are often given 30-day prescriptions for OxyContin, “and it’s like a little opioid starter kit.” The article states that “contrary to stereotype, the people most at risk in this epidemic are not the usual pill-popping suspects – the dorm rats and users of street drugs.”

This may be the case statistically, but it’s not the whole picture. On a recent visit to Massachusetts, Watchdog met with family after family who have lost young kids – most of them under 25 – to Oxy and heroin addiction. Without exception, the kids got started on Oxy in high school and eventually moved on to heroin as they were priced out of their opiate addiction. Watchdog left with a pile of obituaries and mass cards for these kids half a foot high. Watchdog’s take: opiate addiction has many faces, but it’s crucial to focus on how this phenomenon is affecting the younger generation, even if the statistics claim the trend is focused elsewhere.

Quoted in the article is Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn To Cope, a support group for parents and family members dealing with a loved one addicted to heroin, OxyContin and other drugs. Peterson, who has attended 18 funerals of young kids who died of Oxy and heroin since December, tells OxyWatchdog the opiate abuse trend is leading to the loss of a generation of kids, and uses a much stronger word than “epidemic” to describe what she’s seeing on the ground.

“It’s comparable to a genocide,” says Peterson. “It’s killing so many people.”

Peterson – who said L2C’s weekly support meetings have become so heavily attended that they are often standing-room only – also expresses frustration with OxyContin’s maker, Purdue Pharma, for not doing enough to address the addiction problems its drug is creating. (In 2007, the company and three of its top executives forked over a $634.5 million fine to settle charges that they misled doctors and the public about the drug’s dangers.)

“I don’t understand how our country can allow a pharmaceutical company and its executives, who are convicted felons who pleaded guilty to mismarketing, to go on doing business in this country,” she says.

Read Time Magazine’s previous coverage of pill abuse here.

Posted in Editorial, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Oxy-to-heroin abuse more prevalent small towns

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on August 27, 2010

An upswing in the use of heroin in small towns can be linked to the growing abuse of prescription drugs such as OxyContin, and the high price associated with them, reports HeraldNet. Also an opiate, heroin is often used as a substitute drug for Oxy abusers, as it costs significantly less and can be easier to obtain. As an example, NWCN News reported drastic growth in drug-related crimes in the small town of Snomish, Wash., including a pharmacy being robbed of $50,000 worth of OxyContin.

Read about the 400% nationwide increase in prescription pill abuse here.

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Prescription drug overdose main killer of teens

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on August 21, 2010

Once the number one killer of people under the age of 34, car crashes have been replaced by prescription drug abuse as the top cause of death among teens. As reported by the The News-Times, a recent study found the abuse of accessible opiates such as the painkiller oxycodone are luring young people in record numbers. Furthermore, addiction to the pricey narcotic drug leads them to seek out less expensive options such as heroin, with one addiction specialist telling the paper she has sent 30 of her patients under age 22 to in-patient treatment for opiate abuse. All of them, she said, started off using painkillers like Oxy but soon couldn’t afford the $80 per pill and switched to heroin, which costs about $10 a bag.

Posted in Surveys & Statistics, Trends, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

OxyWatchdog Memory Wall

Posted by Oxy Watchdog on July 30, 2010

OxyWatchdog has started a Memory Wall remembering those who have died due to OxyContin and heroin addiction. If you would like your loved one to be included, please email a picture in .jpg format, as well as a brief description, to oxywatchdog@gmail.com.

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