OXYCONTIN: Souls on Ice

Why sell your soul to the devil when you can buy an escape high? Meet OxyContin, Lucifer’s nemesis.

Words: Zoy Britton

Chalky blue bits of OxyContin (OC) streak cruddy black down the hard silver of the foil. Dragon-tail smoke vapors whip up the red straw to the rhythmically rapid inhalations of a young man who, for anonymous purposes, we will call “Justin.” Icy blue eyes stare dartingly at me, as he asserts that “There are two types of junkies: OC heads and dopeheads… I like OC for the reasons that it’s FDA approved and its government certified—pure. It doesn’t have any adulterants, non- toxic fillers; heroine can have anything under the kitchen sink in it, it could have poison, you never know.”

This, in response to my query of whether or not he would have tried heroine before becoming a serious user of OxyContin to which I said, ‘But getting high on either opiate stems from the same desire to escape, no?’

Justin shakes his head. A resolute no… and then he replies, “I just think heroine is dirty. It’s the next level [of addiction].”

A 24-year old student and a close friend of mine for over a decade, Justin comes from an affluent background and has never suffered at the hands of poverty. He has an elitist attitude when it comes to so-called “dirty drugs” and even admits that OC is a “rich kid’s drug.” That if “you are selling 200 OCs a week, then it’s OK to do 20 OCs in that time because you’re covering your habit and making money.” Though he now claims to have decreased his weekly usage to about 300 mg, at the height of his usage Justin was ingesting upwards of 300 mg daily.

Navigating the various obstacles of life requires a clear head and a sheer force of will power to keep pushing forward by any means necessary. Anything to the contrary would be extremely counterproductive. Sure, we’ve all endured that hellish work day with a staggering, near- debilitating hangover, bringing our daily “how alive are you?” percentages down a bit. And we usually make up for it by picking up the slack in other areas—eating the right foods to usurp the toxins we’ve put in just hours before, in essence, setting our inner fixer-upper practices that we’ve come to use to balance our missteps. But imagine taking daily refuge in a hazy cloud of opiates that leave you cotton- mouthed and perpetually “fall- asleep- in- your- cereal- bowl” stoned. Where does reality, will power or the force fit then?

Pharmaceutical companies play pusher’s paradise for everyone from curious kids who want to chop it up and snort it from pill form, to pain-paralyzed surgical patients and soldiers suffering from psychotraumatic disorders who need it to subdue both physical and mental aches. How they become extremely accessible to the public, despite ignorance on everyone’s part (including the pharmaceutical companies, let alone the FDA) of their long-term side-effects has yet to be revealed.

The mind-blowing effects of OC came to a head in 2001, when media outlets flashed segment after segment about a new drug spreading across the US. It was nicknamed “HillBilly Heroine” because of how many young lives it claimed, mostly in small towns before hitting the major cities hard.

But it was in 1995 when Pharma Purdue first released OC onto the market. By 2006, according to a 2008 study by the FDA, over 8% of the American population, aged 12 plus, had used OC non-medically. Even more striking, by that same year, over 5% of America’s 5th graders had used OC recreationally. OC was just easy to get on the street because it was and is the most popular opiate on the pharmaceutical market, which by default spawned black market demand.

Cases of addiction began to rise to staggering numbers. The DEA began its crack down on users and sellers, focusing more specifically on the greedy doctors taking advantage of OC’s high street price (approx. $1/mg according to Justin) through questionable prescription practices. Congressional committees were formed in order to tackle the OC problem, which also gave birth to the National Action Plan (NAP), a united front of enforcement agencies, drug manufacturers and public campaigns used to disengage the hands of OC on the American populus. Yet, their efforts seem paltry as OC continues its addictive onslaught here. Since the drug is so much cheaper and easier to get in bordering countries such as Canada and Mexico, the drug is often smuggled or imported across country lines.

In Toronto and Ontario, Canada, the OC problem has worsened. Canadian officials were forced to remove the drug from the market as opposed to imposing limitations on stores or consumers. And since OC has become extremely accessible on the black market and online in Canada, users from all over are able to secure steep discounts on pharmaceuticals, finding them on specialty sites at about 80% less the cost of the same drug in the US. To counteract this, Canada’s Ministry of Health joined forces with Purdue this past February, to completely phase out OC in favor of a new drug called OxyNEO, effective March 1, 2012. OxyNEO, in contrast to its cousin OxyContin, does of course, host the active ingredient oxycodone but is much more tamper resistant. A press release distributed by Ontario’s Public Drug Programs division earlier this year asserts that OxyNEO is not crushable and if added to water, it will simply gel up. Problem solved, then?

While in the rest of the world the effects of OC are not as well-documented as they are in North America, it appears that until the drug is completely phased out, it will never stop birthing abusers everywhere; even those who feel entitled to it because they are prescribed the drug, like Justin’s friend “Al,” who is also a habitual OC user.

Al admits to lying to his doctor about the effectiveness of his prescribed dosage in order to get stronger meds. “Oh yeah, you start out with two Percocets and then tell the doctor it’s not working, so you get four and it goes up and up.” It’s rather disturbing to hear Al talk about how easy it was to dupe his doctor, yet it is clearly not a new way of life for him. Al began his opiate journey after a car accident dislocated some of his spinal discs when he was just 15. Now he’s 24 and has been using prescribed opiates for what will soon be half his life. He also began selling to support his habit, but admits that he started selling drugs long before he became a habitual OC user. While he does stick to his dosage, his depressed demeanor complete with mumbled musings and heavy eyes indicate some level of abuse.

It’s incredibly heart-breaking to consider stories like these and others, like those of young soldiers, who, upon returning home from war are forever mentally and emotionally scared by battle or some other heavy experience; seek out help in the form of love, understanding and/or therapeutic healing, but are instead heavily seduced into a world of opiates and anti-depressants.

Though I’ve experimented with drugs like marijuana and mushrooms, I was never one for the heavier drugs. I often opted out of the 96-hour acid binges my adolescent friends endured because frankly, tripping balls while skating the line of insanity for an extended amount of time sounded more like a ball of hellfire than good times, to me. Jimi Hendrix would have to rise from the dead before I’d go camping in unlit woods while tripping on ‘shrooms. But I always wondered why and how my friends could find such fun and solace in being absolutely off their rockers when the idea positively terrified me: 1) no control of your emotions or your physical being while trapped in this, sometimes magnificent and other times horrifying, rambling stream of consciousness; 2) Or worse yet, to be held at the addictive mercy of a costly substance that holds no mercy for the weak.

Despite efforts to create non-abusable forms of the pill and phasing out all dosages of OC save for the 30 mg pills, levels of addiction have reached dizzying heights and only continue to spread beyond the US to Canada. Though the pharmaceutical companies should be praised for their efforts these days to cut down abuse by modifying the manufacturing practices of the pills, it seems that the reality of addiction is left in the tracks of political appeasement as these solutions are not really stopping OC usage, as indicated by the continued (and in some cases, rising) abuse of it here in North America.

Zoy Britton is STARK’s associate editor and a regular contributor. You can find her on Twitter @ZoyMB.

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