By Robert Preidt
MONDAY, Dec. 9, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Oxycodone -- the active ingredient in OxyContin -- and hydrocodone are the most popular drugs among Americans who abuse prescription painkillers, a new study finds.
Researchers surveyed more than 3,500 prescription painkiller abusers in 160 drug-treatment programs across the United States. They found that 45 percent of participants favored oxycodone and 30 percent favored hydrocodone.
Both drugs come in pill form, but almost 64 percent of oxycodone abusers and just over one-quarter of hydrocodone abusers crushed the tablets and inhaled the drug. One in five abusers said they sometimes dissolved oxycodone in water and injected it. Less than 5 percent said they injected hydrocodone.
Gender, personality and age were all factors in drug preferences. OxyContin was favored by those who like taking risks and prefer to inject or snort drugs to get high. Young males are likely to fit that profile, the researchers noted.
Hydrocodone was more popular among women, older people, people who didn't want to inject drugs, and those who prefer to deal with a doctor or friend instead of a drug dealer, according to the study in the December issue of the journal Pain.
Both drugs are opioids -- a class of narcotics.
"Opioids are prescribed to treat pain, but their misuse has risen dramatically in recent years," principal investigator Theodore Cicero, a researcher at Washington University, St. Louis, who studies prescription drug abuse, said in a university news release. "Our goal is to understand the personal characteristics of people who are susceptible to drug abuse, so we can detect problems ahead of time."
The survey found that 54 percent of respondents preferred the high they got from oxycodone, while 20 percent said the high from hydrocodone was better.
"Among the reasons addicts prefer oxycodone is that they can get it in pure form," said Cicero, a professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry. "Until recently, all drugs with hydrocodone as their active ingredient also contained another product such as acetaminophen, the pain reliever in Tylenol. That turns out to be very important because addicts don't like acetaminophen."
When injected, acetaminophen causes considerable irritation. When swallowed in large amounts, it can cause severe liver damage.
"Interestingly, addicts, while they're harming their health in one respect by taking these drugs, report being very concerned about the potentially negative side effects of acetaminophen," Cicero said.