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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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OxyContin Abuse

Q. My friend of many years has started abusing OxyContin. She says that it's completely safe for her and she isn't addicted to it, but I have heard otherwise. Could you please tell me whether or not it is harmful for her? If it is, could you send me some information proving that it is not healthy so that I can show her and hopefully get her to stop?

A. OxyContin is a narcotic analgesic medication prescribed for many painful conditions, including arthritis. The active ingredient in OxyContin is oxycodone, a substance found in several different pain medications. When prescribed and monitored appropriately in carefully selected patients, oxydocone and related opioids usually do not lead to overuse or abuse, in the vast majority of patients (see Ytterberg et al, Arthritis Rheum 1998 Sep;41(9):1603-12).

However, as you know, OxyContin abuse has become a growing problem. By chewing, crushing, snorting or "shooting" (injecting) OxyContin pills, abusers of the drug can bypass the drug's time-release mechanism to get a quick morphine-like high. This has led the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to recommend that this drug be marketed only to pain specialists; that labeling omit the claim that OxyContin is less subject to abuse than other narcotics; and that the drug be re-formulated to prevent easy abuse. All this probably sounds a bit dry for purposes of helping your friend!

So, here is what one person wrote on the website, www.oxyabusekills.com--admittedly, not a scientific source of information, but still useful for its first-person accounts:

"I am writing this to let people know how dangerous this drug [OxyContin] is when MISUSED. To the right are excerpts from several news articles, but I would like to sum up my feelings about this pill. It is a great drug for SEVERE chronic pain but when crushed and taken with alcohol or a HUGE LIST of other drugs it can easily be deadly. It is in the Opium family where HEROIN also comes from. It is a VERY popular drug now with the young crowd and besides being deadly it is VERY ADDICTIVE and has more severe withdrawal symptoms than HEROIN.

I hope by bringing awareness to this dangerous drug I can get kids to think twice about doing it just as most try to stay away from heroin because they know how addictive and deadly it is. I consider OXY ABUSE as HEROIN IN A PILL and suggest that if anyone you know is abusing it, you ought to react as if they were abusing HEROIN. I have read many articles on this DRUG but NONE stress how EASY IT IS TO OVERDOSE on it when mixed.

If you have already done it and are not addicted then STOP NOW. My son had done it several times before the night of his death, but there are just too many variables and substances that increase the power of this drug when MISUSED and you never know when one more beer will put you over the edge. Every time you misuse this drug it is like playing RUSSIAN ROULETTE. Eddie lost that night.

Again, this is not a scientific statement. But, I think that referring your friend to this website might be sufficiently motivating to get her to seek professional help and counseling--and that is really the proper route to take if, in fact, she has begun to abuse this potentially dangerous drug. Helping her get to "Narcotics Anonymous" would be a good start, too, but your friend really must talk with her doctor ASAP about how best to proceed. I hope things work out for her.

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February 2003

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