Drug Company Profiteering, Pill Mills and Thousands of Addicts: How Oxycontin Has Spread Through America
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Most of my peers made it through high school alive but shortly after, that began to change. First, the former principal’s son – a well-liked athlete -- died from an overdose of a cocktail of pills, including OxyContin. "The kids that Tim hung out with in high school were kids we as parents wanted him to hang out with … but they were good kids making bad decisions," said his father, who urged that parents communicate, at a school assembly.
After he died that I learned that he was not the first. Another girl had overdosed on methadone the year before. Unfortunately, they were not the last. Since then, at least two people have died from opioids, and “who's next” is not an uncommon question for debate. It's like a virus or the grim reaper, sneaking around the suburbs at night and picking kids.
A 2008 study by DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network) for Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware counties shows that, combined, there were 681 deaths due to drug use (the vast majority of which involved opioids) and 45 drug-related suicides. One Bucks Country reporter noted that, for his county, drugs are killing more people a week than the Vietnam War did.
While the rates of overdose are startling, death is not the only deterrent to OxyContin use. Addiction itself can take the fun out of experimentation. While some people so enjoy the drug they do not want to quit, others desperately want to be clean – to return to the life they had before, when they did not have to mess with fate just to make it through the day. But another voice – the voice of addiction – overpowers this will, so that they are caught in an overwhelming battle. The problem is so bad, and so common, that I regularly see the ups and downs on Facebook statuses -- posts like “sometimes I think I can’t make it,” “hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” “being strong,” “getting clean,” and “finally getting back to my normal self."
What makes quitting so hard is how good Oxys, and other opioids, feel. “These drugs are just amazing. For some, it’s a sense of intoxication. For some, it’s a sense of peace. For some, it washes away the pain of existence,” said Scott Kellogg of the New York State Psychological Association. “For some, it’s a sexual experience. The metaphor is always that it’s better than sex – it has some orgasmic quality.”
OxyContin’s euphoric effects vary depending how the drug is taken. When swallowed, active ingredients are time-released, and the high is less intense. When crushed, however, all time-release properties are obsolete so that when snorted, smoked, or shot up, Oxys (at much higher doses than immediate-release oxycodone) flood the body with a rush of warmth and confidence. Called a “miracle drug” by manufacturer Purdue Pharma, OxyContin is a physical and psychological pain eraser. It works by activating the mu-opioid receptor, “hijacking” the body’s natural painkilling system to release much higher levels of endorphins and block out the pain.
At first, Kellogg explained, people use the drugs to feel good. The body so enjoys this intoxication that it craves it. Then it needs it at increasingly higher doses, until users are so sick with days of fatigue, irritability, nausea, pain, diarrhea and vomiting they cannot imagine how to stop. At this point, people are not using to feel good, but to avoid terrible sickness. Withdrawal from opiates has often been called “a living hell.” Kellogg described the withdrawal as “a dramatically painful experience that can last up to five days.”