Oxycodone and Hydrocodone: Use, Abuse and Treatment.

A single OxyContin tablet can sell for $80 or more on the street

Oxycodone and hydrocodone, two similar sounding generic prescription drugs, are narcotic pain medications that are being abused at epidemic levels in the United States and Canada.

Oxycodone, which is sold under the brand name OxyContin and used in Percocet and Percodan, is a powerful analgesic designed specifically for severe pain disorders. It has highly addictive properties. Hydrocodone, which is an ingredient in Vicodin, is another painkiller that is frequently prescribed for moderate to severe pain for everything from toothaches to backaches. Both medications are subject to abuse and may cause fatal overdose when mixed with alcohol, other drugs or when taken in amounts exceeding recommended dosages.

OxyContin is a time-released formula of oxycodone that was introduced in 1995 as a Schedule II drug. It is a synthetic opioid that is very similar to morphine. OxyContin gained national attention in 2003 when conservative radio talk host Rush Limbaugh admitted that he was addicted to it. Since then, detox centers and pain management specialists have focused on helping patients withdraw from the deadly addictive medication.

Hydrocodone is a Schedule III controlled substance, which means that a prescription for the drug can be phoned in or faxed to a pharmacy. Schedule II controlled substances, such as Oxycodone, can only be obtained with a hard copy of a prescription and there are no refills. One must get a physician’s approval for each prescription of Oxycodone due to its higher potential for abuse.

In addition to traditional treatment approaches, many addiction specialists are hoping that new medications like Suboxone can help those who are addicted to oxycodone or hydrocodone. A relatively new drug, Suboxone is another potent pain medication that is used to help ease withdrawal symptoms. Precaution should be taken when taking this drug as it too has highly addictive properties and must be administered under the supervision of a pain management physician or drug addiction specialist.

Arrest records continue to rise each day as more drug rings, dealers and pill mills reap the grim rewards from other people’s pain and suffering. Even without illegal dealers, there are unethical physicians who routinely write unnecessary prescriptions for these dangerous drugs. We must continue to increase awareness and help those in need, holding on to the hope that a permanent solution for drug addiction will someday be found.

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Are You or is Someone You Love Abusing Prescription Drugs?

Drug abuse is a very serious and dangerous problem. When many people think of drug abuse, they’re picturing illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. Another very real form of drug abuse is prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse, to be put simply, is taking a prescription medication that is either not prescribed by a doctor or taken in a way other than prescribed.

An estimated 20 percent of Americans have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons (National Institutes of Health)

Prescription drug abuse cuts across a wide segment of the population, from Hollywood celebrities to the kids taking pills from the family medicine cabinet. OxyContin is the prescription drug that receives the most press coverage, but many other drugs that are also being abused. It could almost be said that if a drug is available under prescription, someone has tried to abuse it.

Most Abused Drugs and Methods of Abuse

These are the three main categories of prescription drugs that are routinely abused:

  • Opioid Painkillers – includes oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Depressants – includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium)
  • Stimulants – includes amphetamines (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)

There are three ways a person can take a prescription drug. In street terms, they are:

  • Pop it – refers to orally ingesting a pill.
  • Sniff or snort it – refers to crushing a pill into powder form and ingesting it nasally.
  • Cook or shoot it – refers to heating a drug into liquid form and using a syringe to inject it in into the body.

Millions of Americans Abuse Prescription Drugs Each Year

Prescription drug abuse occurs among all ages. A 2009 survey found that 16 million Americans over age 12 reported to have taken a prescription painkiller, depressant or stimulant for nonmedical purposes within the past year. According to a 2011 survey, 7.4% of children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to having used prescription medication for nonmedical purposes.

In 2011, nationwide deaths from prescription painkillers outnumbered traffic fatalities. There we also more deaths from narcotic prescription drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined.

There is some good news related to prescription drug abuse. A recent national survey indicates that roughly 300,000 fewer young adults are abusing prescription medication than in 2010. This declined in abuse among young people seems to show an increasing awareness of the issue. It also could reflect the fact that prescription drugs are becoming more difficult to obtain and abuse. However, there is concern that prescription drug addicts may be switching to illegal drugs. With mounting evidence that the use of illicit narcotics like heroin is on the rise, the nation continues to be faced with a critical drug abuse problem.

Many people think that abusing prescription drugs is somehow safer than illegal drug abuse. This is not the case. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs, quitting cold turkey may be difficult or medically dangerous. In many cases, residential treatment is the safest solution for prescription drug addiction.

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Relapse Prevention Planning

The decision to quit using alcohol or drugs is an important first step on the path to a new life. The hard work of getting sober follows. Recovery may free you from many of the problems that substance abuse caused in your life, but you will still have to face the everyday stressors and major life changes that everyone must deal with. In the past, you may have dealt with stress and change by drinking or using drugs. That is no longer an option. By thinking ahead and planning strategies for dealing with trigger events, you can be more confident about avoiding relapse on your road to recovery.

A relapse prevent plan can help you stay healthy and avoid substance abuse.

Relapse is a process that begins long before you take a drink or use drugs. Many people in recovery have found that coming up with a relapse prevention plan is an effective strategy for staying healthy and avoiding substance abuse.

A relapse prevention plan that covers the following areas can help you defuse a relapse before it begins.

  • Identifying high-risk situations that you know will tempt you to relapse. Plan in detail what you will do or say when you are in a situation that puts you at risk.
  • Avoiding people who put your recovery at risk.
  • Dealing with stress and problems at home, school or work before pent-up emotions lead to a crisis.
  • Learning relaxation techniques that will help you maintain your equilibrium.
  • Taking time to exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Finding a work-life balance that allows you to fill your spare time with activities that your enjoy and helps you avoid negative feelings like boredom, anger and loneliness.
  • Overcoming cravings to drink or use drugs by relying on the help and support of family, friends or a support group or counselor. Let them know the warning signs of relapse so they can help you deal with stress and trigger events.

According a study published by the National Institutes of Health, the short-term relapse rate for alcoholism and drug addiction recovery can range up to 50 percent. Relapse is more likely to occur during the first 90 days of recovery. During this early recovery period, handling stress can be especially difficult. In general, the longer you are sober, the easier it will become to cope with stress. The risk of relapse will decrease but not completely disappear, making it important to have a recovery prevention plan in place.

Many people who are in the process of relapsing do not see the warning signs. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are concerned about your well being and are prepared to help.

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Slight Drop in Prescription Drug Abuse among Young Adults

Prescription drug abuse in the U.S. has dropped to the lowest level since 2002, reflecting a crackdown on over-prescribing doctors and black market drug dealers.

A crackdown on pills mills and doctor shopping has led to a decrease in prescription drug abuse in the U.S.

Prescription drugs are no longer being abused quite as prominently as they once were, especially by young adults. In fact, the abuse of prescription drugs dropped to the lowest level since 2002. Experts are crediting the drop in drug abuse to crackdowns at federal and state levels on doctors who offer prescriptions for profit and on patients who have obtained drugs by visiting pill mills and doctor shopping.

Young adults, who were among the largest group of abusers of prescription drugs, have also showed the greatest drop in abuse. The number of young adults, defined as those between the ages of 18 to 25, who regularly abused prescription drugs went from 1.9 million to 1.7 million, roughly a 14 percent drop. Only 3.6 percent of those abused pain relievers, such as Percocet, or Vicodin.

In 2010, 7 million people used pain killers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and other prescription drugs; this number dropped to 6.1 million in 2011. This illustrates that the increase in public awareness and the stepped up efforts of law enforcement and anti drug officials have decreased the abuse of these drugs, according to Pamela Hyde, an Administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In 2011, roughly 9% of the American population aged 12 and older admitted to regularly using drugs such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs, including the abuse of prescription drugs. Cocaine abuse has dropped by over a million users between 2006 and 2011, however, the amount of people addicted to pain killers has grown by almost half a million in the same time frame. Heroin use is also on its way up, gaining a substantial 75% user rate in the past four years.

Marijuana is still the most commonly used drug, regardless of age. Alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking has dropped off among young adults since 2008, but marijuana usage has been consistently growing. Children as young as 13 and 14 years old have admitted to using marijuana in the past month, almost 13 percent of them in fact! The number of teenagers who believe that smoking marijuana is risky behavior has dropped in the past four years almost 10%. Either way, these trends should be watched carefully.

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New Mexico Drug Problems

Recently in New Mexico the battle against drug related deaths has become more difficult than ever.  New Mexico has the highest drug overdose death rate in the entire nation.  This high death rate may be partially due to the fact that the state’s funds and attention have been focused on prevention of other substances of abuse.

Alcoholism and heroin addiction have haunted the state for years, but the drug of choice by addicted individuals has recently switched to prescription drugs. Awareness activism and law enforcement have lagged behind this trend.

New Mexico is Not Immune to the Prescription Drug Epidemic

In a span just short of 10 years the drug overdose rate has jumped 60% in New Mexico, with the majority being prescription drug related.  Prescription drug overdose rates now outnumber that of all other illegal drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy.  The main category of prescription drug abusers is users of opioids such as oxycodone, morphine and methadone.  Oxycodone is a very addictive painkiller and abuse rates have risen to amazing highs after the FDA approved the drug for use.  Although the pill is intended for a 12 hour release of pain relieving active ingredients addicts discovered that when the pill is crushed up the effects that should span over 12 hours are immediate and intense.

Not a “Hidden” Problem at All

This epidemic in New Mexico is especially worrisome due to the fact that it doesn’t affect one small facet of the population.  Prescription drug abuse spans socio-economic, race, gender, and age barriers.  There seems to be no end in sight.  Not only do many people become addicted to prescription drugs after an injury,  prescription drug addiction  often leads to more serious drug addictions such as heroin.

A simple injury can turn into a lifetime of addiction.  Many users turn to heroin as an alternative when they can’t afford to buy prescription pills anymore.  Doctors and politicians are at a crossroads about how to mitigate this issue through legislation. Although limiting access to prescription painkillers would help curve the number of addicts, it would also negatively affect those that are actually in pain and need these prescriptions to live their lives.

Also these restrictions could also push patients to unsafe alternatives such as buying prescriptions through unregulated means.  For now, the residents of New Mexico are forced to try and improve drug treatment facilities in order to rehabilitate.  Although treatment facilities are overloaded, the staff does what they can to help people with addiction problems. The first step is getting the person battling addiction into treatment as soon as possible.

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Prescription Medication Abuse – A National Crisis

The abuse of prescribed medication is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. Prescription drugs are a close second to marijuana on the list of drugs that are abused in the United States. This phenomenon has been classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A national survey showed that approximately 30 percent of people aged 12 and over who experimented with narcotics for the first time in 2009 did so by using a prescribed drug for non-medical purposes.

 

Some abusers of prescription medication, in particular teens, hold the belief that these substances carry less risk than illicit drugs because they have been prescribed by a doctor and obtained from a pharmacist.

When taken as prescribed for valid medical purposes, prescription drugs are effective and usually safe. However, they are just as dangerous and deadly as illegal drugs when used for non-medical reasons. In the past, opiate overdoses were almost always due to heroin abuse. There is a marked increase in overdoses due to the misuse of prescription painkillers.

Prescription drugs are legal, making them easily accessible, as they are often found at home medicine cabinet. Another recent national survey showed that more than 70 percent of the people who abused prescription pain medication acquired them from friends or relatives, while almost 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or via the Internet.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs can be divided into three classes:

  • Stimulants, including amphetamine/dextroamphetamine  (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Opioids such as methadone (Dolophine), and hydrocodone (Vicodin,  Lortab)
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants including diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax)

 

What You Can Do:

  • Dispose of prescription drugs in a proper manner. Do not leave them where they can be easily abused.
  • Educate your kids: It’s vital that children learn about the use and abuse of prescription medication.
  • Seek addiction treatment and offer support to those in recovery: If you or someone you know  requires help with substance abuse, find a nearby treatment center immediately.

 

Addressing this epidemic is a top priority for all. It will help build stronger, productive communities and help those with substance abuse problems lead healthier, more prosperous lives.

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Promising News in the Fight against Prescription Drug Abuse

Even Cough Medicine is a Prescription Drug

Although 1.7 million may sound like a big number, it’s not as big as it used to be. That 1.7 million is in reference to the amount of young adults who were first time prescription drug abusers last year. This is according to new study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  According to them, that number used to be around 2 million as recently as 2010. That means just in the last year there has been a 14% drop in first time young adult prescription drug abuse. The ages of people included in this report range from 18 to 25.

The director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment was very happy about the news. He made clear that this age group is at such a crucial time in their lives where they are first going off into the world. This is the time when people decide what they are going to do with the rest of their lives and who they are going to be. Becoming addicted to drugs of any kind obviously has a severe negative impact on anyone’s life, and he reiterated that it was great that less of this age group is flirting with addiction. Prescription drugs include anything one can get from a doctor that is not inherently illegal to own or use. This means it could be something simple as basic cough medicine. The problems arise when people begin taking more than needed for reasons other than their medical condition.

There are several factors at play that may have contributed to this sudden drop in abuse. In recent years there has been a steady increase in drug abuse education. In addition, pharmacies and doctors have become more mindful of the types of drugs people try to abuse and can more easily monitor their use in order to find out if a patient is taking the drug for the right reasons.

Although this drop in young adults took place, there were no changes in numbers for the amount of adults or teenagers who abuse prescription drugs.  In total there were 2.3 million new prescription drug abusers that abused for the first time last year.

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Appalachian Pillbillies

Appalachia is the cultural region that stretches along the famous Appalachian Mountain Trail.  If you visit this area, the verdant rolling hills and breathtaking natural landscapes are hard to miss. However, when one looks beneath the beautiful facade, one uncovers a debilitating and dark pattern of widespread prescription drug abuse. Although prescription drug abuse is not an uncommon in other areas around the world, addiction to natural or synthetic opioids or painkillers (such as oxycodone, morphine, codeine, methadone, among others) has reached unprecedented levels in Appalachia. The abuse is so widespread that, in fact, a new term has been coined solely to describe those addicted: pillbillies.

A Typical Appalachian Town

Why are Opiates So Popular in Appalachia?

The high rate of addiction in Appalachia is thought to be caused in part by the pervasive poverty of the area, where the poverty rate is three times the national rate.  Unfortunately, the high poverty rate both causes and is caused by the higher frequency of prescription drug abuse. Those who are addicted have trouble maintaining jobs, whereas people who are looking for jobs are likely unable to find many (due to the low number of them due to poor economic growth). This cycle leads to anxiety and poverty, which fuels drug abuse. Kids who were reared by their grandparents because their own parents were abusers are now becoming abusers themselves. In 2011, one out of ten newborn babies tested positive for drugs.
The Obama administration declared plans to combat prescription drug abuse and in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, aided by many local police departments, arrested sixteen people in an investigation given the moniker “Operation Pillbilly“. Investigators discovered that the group of pillbillies arrested had been presenting fake prescriptions to pharmacies over several years in the Appalachian areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. During their tenure, the group has been estimated to have attained 130,000 pills, valued at approximately $4 million. Those arrested shed light on the wide variety of people addicted to prescription drugs: both male and female, ranging in age from early 20′s to late 40′s. All of the sixteen people have been federally sentenced, some with up to six years in prison.

Nationally, the number of deaths caused by prescription drugs has now surpassed the combined death toll caused by crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s. Too many families have suffered a devastating loss due to prescription drug addiction, and it is time that this country does something to address this ever-growing problem.

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Good Samaritan Bill – Get Help and Avoid Prosecution

Too often a witness to an overdose will hesitate to call 911 because of fear of prosecution.  Whether they are using too, or have drugs (or drug paraphernalia) on them, they think first about avoiding the police, and only second about calling for help for the victim.  The California legislature, at the lead of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D San Francisco), is aiming to change this trend.

The 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act is the legislation he has sponsored, in hopes that people will be more likely to get victims the medical attention that they need in the case of an overdose.  This law does not protect witnesses from all charges, but merely three specific, lower-level charges; possession of paraphernalia, possession for personal use, and being under the influence.  Even this small change, it is hoped, will vastly increase the likelihood that 911 will be called and that an overdosing user can be saved.
The California bill was passed in an overwhelming bipartisan effort, with only 20 of 70 legislators voting nay.  This bill is now on the governor’s desk waiting for approval.  If the governor signs the bill into law, California will be the tenth US state to enact a 911 Good Samaritan bill, with the other states being:

  • Florida
  • New Mexico
  • Massachusetts
  • Rhode Island
  • Illinois
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Washington State
  • Colorado

… and similar bills are pending in the houses of other states around the country.
Legislators have passed these bills in hopes of lowering the numbers of drug overdose deaths, which have grown drastically over the last few years.  More Californians died of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents in 2009, according to the California Department of Public Health.  Clearly that is a trend that legislators want to stop, and this bill is one of many efforts to stem this tide.
911 services are meant to save lives, but when people are afraid to use them, this can’t happen.  Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, like many others, clearly feels that it is the state’s job to protect their citizens’ lives first, over any efforts at prosecution.

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Prescription Drug Overdose Remains a U.S. Epidemic, Painkillers Big Part of the Problem

We’ve been chronicling how  widespread prescription drug abuse has become a problem of epidemic proportions.  According to recent numbers released by the CDC, the number of  deaths caused by prescription drug overdose serves as shocking evidence of the problem.

There are now more deaths annually from overdose of prescription drugs than car accidents. This is the the result of a steep increase in prescription drug abuse that has occurred over the last two decades.  These numbers beg the question of what is behind the trend.

Why Prescription Drug Abuse is so Pervasive

Prescription painkillers are the key players in prescription drug related deaths.  Prescription painkillers now rank as third in popularity among teens who abuse, right after alcohol and marijuana. According to the FDA, one out of every seven teenagers reports prescription painkiller abuse for the purposes of getting high over the course of a year.
It is possible that part of what is driving this is easy accessibility and a misconception of prescription painkillers. For many, obtaining a prescription painkiller for abuse may be a simple matter of asking a friend or loved one for one. The careless attitude attributed to prescription painkiillers by many could be fueled by a lack of awareness of the addictive nature of painkillers. The risk of addiction and overdose is prevalent and  frightening.  Accidental overdoses often occur as a result of combining drugs that depress the body’s central nervous system. With such disturbing trends in abuse and deaths from overdose, many organizations have taken steps to try and raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drugs.  Many of the leaders of these organizations are the bereaved loved ones of those who have lost their lives to prescription drug overdose.

People Are  Now Seeking Help More Frequently
In light of all of this, there is one statistic reported by the CDC that some may interpret as a relatively good one. People are increasingly seeking treatment for abuse of prescription painkillers. Between the years of 2004 and 2008, the number increased an amazing 400%.

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug addiction, seek help immediately.  It is not as scary as it may seem.  Visit a resource like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to start seeking resources for help.

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