OxyContin drug abuse is widespread among people of all ages and backgrounds. OxyContin, when prescribed as a painkiller, is the best-selling non-generic narcotic pain reliever in the United States. It is prescribed legally for the relief of moderate to severe pain resulting from injuries, bursitis, neuralgia, arthritis, and cancer. Its appeal for recreational abusers comes from its euphoric and heroin-like effects. In fact, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, over 1 million U.S. residents aged 12 and older have used OxyContin non-medically. 15% of college and high school students admit to using prescription drugs for nonmedical use.
OxyContin is a brand-name for the narcotic drug oxycodone hydrochloride. It is available in 10 milligram (mg), 20 mg, 40 mg, or 80 mg tablets. The tablets come in different colors and sizes according to the dosage. OxyContin tablets are imprinted with the letters OC on one side and the number of milligrams on the other side. Tablets are designed to be swallowed whole so the drug's effects cab be gradually released. In cases of OxyContin drug abuse, individuals bypass this time-release by either chewing or crushing the tablets. Crushed tablets can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected.
The most common street names for OxyContin are OC's, ox, oxy 40, oxy 80, Blue, hillbilly heroin, Kicker, or oxycotton. Although OxyContin is also known as the "poor man's heroin," street prices vary from 50 cents to $1 per milligram, with 40 milligram tablets selling from $20-$40. This is in sharp contrast to the common prescription cost of $4 per 40mg tablet before insurance subsidies. This price discrepancy creates a great financial incentive for those with access to prescription OxyContin to sell it illegally, fueling OxyContin drug abuse. Oftentimes, individuals with valid medical reasons to be prescribed the drug will sell it to reap these financial rewards. Individuals may also engage in "prescription shopping" among different doctors to receive larger quantities of the drug to sell.
According to the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Survey, four percent of high school seniors in the United States abused this drug at least once over the past year. Because it is a legal drug when prescribed, many young people are under the mistaken impression that somehow OxyContin is less dangerous than illegal drugs. They could not be more wrong. Individuals who take even a single large dose of OxyContin are at risk for severe respiratory depression that can lead to death. Inexperienced and new users are at particular risk because they may be unaware of what constitutes a large dose and have not developed a tolerance for the drug.
Individuals who engage in OxyContin abuse risk developing a tolerance, causing them to take increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effects. Long-term abuse of the drug can also lead to physical dependence and addiction. Individuals who become dependent upon or addicted to the drug may experience painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms associated with OxyContin drug abuse include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes and involuntary leg movements.
In addition, abusers who inject OxyContin face additional risks, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne viruses. Some of those individuals who engage in OxyContin drug abuse also end up becoming addicted to heroin once their relatively inexpensive (insurance- funded) prescriptions run out, and they can't afford the street price of Oxy. Due to its similar euphoric effect, heroin often becomes the next best thing for those who fall prey to addiction.
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