Sunday, December 4, 2011

From Prescription Drugs to Heroin Abuse

(*Note: When I wrote this article back in 2008, I had no clue how much of an impact OxyContin would have on drug use in my area.  My drug team ran ragged trying to stop the distribution of Oxy 80.  Finally, Purdue Pharma was forced to change the formulation of their pills to make them tamper proof.  Most addicts have moved on to OxyMorph, Percocet 30, and figuring out ways to abuse the "tamper proof" Oxy's.  Everything I wrote still applies.  See the short afterwards at the end of the article for a recent update.) 
You have my permission to re-post this whever you see fit.  Please attribute me as the author and provide a link back to this page, including the following information:   Bernard J. Schaffer is a published author and expert in the distribution of controlled substances at the district court level in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
 Every Heroin user I know (every LIVING Heroin user I know) started off taking OxyContin.  They followed a very simple, very typical progression from the early stages of sampling Oxy's to shooting up a bundle of Heroin (14 bags) every three days or so.  The ease with which OxyContin (or OxyCodone, as it is officially termed.  OxyContin is a brand name for the same drug.) is available to people has created a new generation of Heroin addicts. 
    That is what is generally called a Thesis Statement.  What will follow is my attempt to prove my Thesis.  I'd like to qualify what I am going to write by saying that I am not a narcotics expert.  There are thousands of people who have more experience with investigating narcotics crimes, treating addiction, and dealing with the problem.  I am simply a street cop who is at the front lines of the crimes committed by Heroin addicts, and the resulting impact on their families and communities.
   OxyCodone is a drug that contains an opiate alkaloid that is a minor component of opium.  It is generally sold in pill form, most commonly under the brand name OxyContin.  (We'll get to the other ingenious ways that people can abuse Oxy in a moment.)
    OxyCodone was first developed in 1916 after Bayer Pharmaceutical stopped manufacturing Heroin (Also an Opiate) once it came to light that it was incredibly addictive, and being abused by both doctors and patients.  OxyCodone was designed to have less of an immediate impact than Heroin, to prevent the sensation of a "rush" that Heroin addicts were craving.
    The drug has actually been in American Pharmacies since 1939.  It is found in Percodan, Percocet, and a number of other aspirine and acetaminophen products.
    In 1995, Purdue Pharmaceuticuals, the manufacturers of various Oxy products including OxyContin, produced a higher-strength tablet.  Reports of abuse began filtering in. 
    While OxyContin can be abused in its pill form, many people resort to crushing the pill and snorting it, injecting it, or taking it rectally.  Once the outer coatings of the tablet are removed, the safeguards against the "rush" of the opiate affecting the user are nullified.
    It's not secret that people are over-medicated in this country.  I know people who've stolen OxyContin from their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and houses they break into after determining the resident has "scripts."  In fact, a local police department had one of their own officers arrested a few years ago when he kept going back to an elderly woman's house to "check on her" and she kept noticing her pills were missing. 
     Then, there are people who obtain legitimate prescriptions, and sell them.  Or they obtain NUMEROUS prescriptions and sell them.  Who do they sell them to?  The sad answer is "Everybody."  The sadder answer is that normally it is young people interested in experimenting with drugs, but are wary of using anything "hard" like Cocaine or Heroin.
    In my personal opinion, to a normal person, it's psychologically abhorrent to snort something up their nose or shoot something up their vein.  We've been pretty well indoctrinated as a society to find that unacceptable.  However, you can't throw a rock without hitting someone who takes multitude of pills for a multitude of ailments.  Lithium, Thorazine, Percocet, you name it.  Lots and lots and lots of people are taking pills.
    But here's the catch:  OxyContin is EXPENSIVE.  I know people who paid as much as $60 per pill on the street for them.  Considering a full prescription is approximately 90 pills, well, you do the math.
    Trouble begins when the addict gets really good and hooked on Oxy.  Three a day, four a day, and the money starts getting tight.  To an INDIVIDUAL the speech the addict then receives is this: "Why are you paying so much for Oxy?  Heroin is the same high and it only costs $10 a bag."
    $10 a bag, about $140 a bundle.  And, they probably don't begin by shooting it up.  They snort it.  At first, anyway.  By that time, they've probably snorted Oxy already, so it is not that difficult for them to make the leap to snorting Heroin.  Of course, that doesn't last long.
     Once Heroin has you on the hook, you are on a set date with the syringe.  No doubt about it.  There are people who can stave it off, just as there are people who can stave off being addicted to Oxy but not making the progression to Heroin, but by and large, they will be tying off and shooting up in no time.
    They shoot it up in their arms, legs, toes, genitals, and anywhere else they can find a vein.  I saw a dead kid once who died of a Heroin overdose.  He had a brand new tattoo on the inside of his arm, with trackmarks all located at the center of the tattoo.  The poor parents never realized the kid got his ink just to cover up his addiction.
    You know what?  I've taken Oxy.  Got pretty well-thumped on it too.
    It was 2002 and I had just had all four wisdom teeth taken out.  The oral surgeon prescribed me OxyContin for the pain.  At that time, I had never heard of OxyContin.  He told me to take two to four pills on regular intervals once the anaesthesia wore off.  I went home, mouth STUFFED full of bloody cotton, and waited for feeling to come back into my jaw.  It did, in flashing, aching, furious pain.  I promptly took two of the pills and sat down to read.
    I remember the words began swimming.  I couldn't concentrate.  I no longer felt like reading.  I tried to sleep but was too restless.  I'm no expert at being "high", but if I had to relate it to anything, I'd say it was a "dirty" high.
    The next day I took only one of the pills when the pain became, again, hard to bear.  After that I switched to OTC Tylenol and flushed the pills down the toilet.  Shortly after that I began hearing more and more about Oxy and knew that I'd done the right thing.
    I ran into the doctor about a month later in Wawa, and he asked me why I hadn't been back to see him for a refill of the pills.  I told him I'd only taken three and he got angry with me, telling me that it was silly to suffer and be uncomfortable.  At the time, it probably seemed sensible to him to feel that way.  At the time, I had no real way of backing up my belief that OxyContin was not good for me.
    Bear in mind, I'm not saying any of this to lay some, "Hey, I've been there, bro" trip on you.  I would NEVER tell an Oxy addict that I could relate to his problem.  It's a whole different animal.  The first time they took Oxy they were probably surrounded by people they liked, in a fun atmosphere, that they can associate taking the pills with having a good time.  I can only associate taking the pills with being in such crazy pain that I needed help.
    But, I've spoken with young men going through withdrawl from OxyContin.  They had to hold trash cans under their chins so they could puke into them between sentences.
    I've spoken to girls who have sold their bodies for Oxy and Heroin.  I'm not talking the crack whores you see on the streets.  I'm talking young girls who gave their sex to old, sweaty, fat drug dealers just so they could get another fix.  Believe me when I tell you that the drug world is one of ultimate depression.  Someone addicted to opiates is amongst the living dead.  You can smell it on them as easily as if they were rotting from within.
    And if you're wondering what this all means to you, I would guess that the national percentage of Theft cases (Including Burglary) that stem from Heroin addiction is at least sixty percent, if not more.  Opiate addicts NEED to get high.  They will steal the change out of cupholders in unlocked cars, and they often do.
    Or, on a personal level I could tell you that I know more people who have lost young loved ones to Heroin overdoses than any other thing combined.  Car crashes, Homicide, Suicide, all of the other drugs you could possibly imagine.  Heroin takes the dead-kid cake.
    The thing that always surpises people is exactly how much Heroin is being taken today by young people.  "I didn't know heroin was still around," they say.  "There's Heroin in (Insert Town Name Here)?????"
    Yes, yes there is.  In fact, there is a whole lot of it.  You might even have some in your house.  In 2000, over 6.5 Million prescriptions to OxyContin were issued.
    In 2007, Purdue Pharma plead guilty to Felony charges that they PURPOSELY misbranded OxyContin as being less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawl symptoms than other pain medications.
    6.5 Million Prescriptions.  $60 a pill on the street.
    Ultimately, I can't prove my thesis, because it would require massive data and research that I cannot summon.  But mark my words, there will come a time when someone infinitely smarter than me does.  You will soon see research supporting the Enemy Thesis that irresponsible manufacturing and distribution of OxyCodone has lead to a massive increase in Heroin abuse, and Heroin-Related crime.        
    I can only hope that another group of people equally as smart as those much smarter than I will then put responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the executive of companies such as Purdue Pharma who would put our children's lives in the sewer for the sake of a buck.
Note: In 2010 OxyContin's forumalation was altered to make them tamper-proof in an attempt to (finally) curb their abuse.  Any cursory search of the internet will reveal that users have been actively trying to defeat this counter-measure.  In the meantime, they have moved on to other prescription medications including Percocet 30mg pills, OxyMorph, Morphine, and Heroin.  
New drugs appear all the time, including an insideous new drug in Russia and Eastern Europe called Krokodil, an opiate that earns its name because it turns users skin into scales.  Many users skin is literally eaten away until their bones are exposed, and they die within two to three years.  

     I found vials of cocaine and morphine in his desk drawers and hidden between the pages of his books.  I dumped them into the sewer, imagining thousands of rats were now feasting on his vicious powders, watching the gutters with red glowing eyes in hopes of getting more. 
    One morning, Holmes woke and came out into the living room.  The dark circles I had grown accustomed to seeing under his eyes were gone.  His face was shaven and his skin had a new rosy tint, instead of its normally pale, sickly color.  He smiled at me and sat in his chair, “Watson, I need to thank you.  That was astoundingly kind of you to care for me while I was ill.  I feel wonderful.” 
     “It was my pleasure, Holmes.  I am truly pleased to see you up and about.  It has been weeks since I’ve seen Mary, and she is probably ready to end our engagement.  Holmes?”
     He was scanning the mantle, then looking around the rest of the room.  “Where is it, Watson?”
     "Where is what?”  
     “Where is my Moroccan case?  What on earth did you do with it?”
     “The case is safe.  It is, however, empty.”
     “How dare you!  What gave you the right to tamper with my property?”  Holmes’s mouth twisted in rage and I seriously thought he might strike me. 
     I stood, fists curled.  Holmes was taller, but I was thicker.  I dreaded the idea of being struck by one of his practiced boxing maneuvers, but was determined that should it come to blows, I would tackle him before he got the opportunity.  Instead, to my surprise, Holmes collapsed at my feet sobbing.  “You cannot do this, Watson!  Please!  I only need a little!  Just enough to get me back on my feet, I beg you.”  
      I helped him into his chair and wiped the sweaty hair from his forehead.  “No.”


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