OxyContin: Pain Relief vs. Abuse
Are worries over abuse having an impact on the drug's legitimate use as a painkiller?
OxyContin Use and Abuse continued...
"What makes OxyContin dangerous is not only that it's addictive, it can
also be lethal," says Drew Pinsky, MD, best known for his Loveline
radio show. "It makes you feel you can tolerate more, but it can
precipitate respiratory failure, especially when used with other drugs like
alcohol or benzodiazepenes."
Street names for OxyContin include OC, Kicker, OxyCotton, and Hillbilly
Heroin. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), oxycodone
has been abused for more than 30 years. But with the introduction of OxyContin
in 1996, there has been a marked escalation of abuse.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2006 revised
Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory on OxyContin, the regions most
affected are eastern Kentucky, New Orleans, southern Maine, Philadelphia,
southwestern Pennsylvania, southwestern Virginia, Cincinnati, and Phoenix.
However, the DEA says the problem has spread across the country.
While there is special concern about teens' use of OxyContin, the percentage
of 12th graders who said they had abused the drug in the past year declined in
the 2006 Monitoring the Future survey of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
(NIDA). The information is summarized in "NIDA Infofacts: High School and
Youth Trends." Abuse of OxyContin decreased for the first time since its
inclusion in the survey in 2002, from 5.5% in 2005 to 4.3% in 2006.
Drug Tolerance vs. Addiction
Chronic pain patients often confuse tolerance with addiction. They become
fearful when the dosage of a narcotic has to be increased, but it's normal for
the body to build up tolerance over time, says Simmonds, spokeswoman for the
American Cancer Society. "Patients don't get a high, and they don't get
Simmonds, who is in private practice in Harrisburg, Pa., tells WebMD,
"The tragedy is that any day of the week a patient will be in my office in
real pain, and a family member will say, 'Don't take morphine.' Patients will
suffer needlessly because they think they'll get addicted. We have to take time
to educate them."
Kathryn Serkes, director of policy and public affairs for the Association of
American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS) in Tucson, Ariz., agrees. She says
the standard of pain management care is more aggressive today than what it was
just five years ago. She disagrees with some critics who would use OxyContin
only as a last resort. "The phrase 'addicted to painkillers' is used fast