Pubdate: Sun, 18 Mar 2001
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2001 Richmond Newspapers Inc
Contact:  P.O. Box 85333, Richmond, VA 23293
Fax: (804) 775-8072
Author: Mark Holmberg, Times-Dispatch Columnist
Note: LTEs by Fax or mail only


That which we call dope, by any other name would still get you high, 
Shakespeare might've said had he been a drug addict.

OxyContin - this year's name-brand bogeyman - is still just plain ol' dope. 
Only it's packaged in a time-release tablet that was believed to be less 
attractive to junkies. (Or, as the lab coats would say, its 
delayed-absorption properties and dual-polymer matrix composition should 
reduce abuse liability.)

Much more importantly, the "delayed absorption" qualities of OxyContin 
provide steady levels of dope in the bloodstreams of those with chronic 
pain, giving them relief from the spikes of misery felt between traditional 

Cancer patients can sleep all night. They don't run the same risk of mood 
swings. They and other chronic pain sufferers can get on with life.

That's why OxyContin was hailed as a heroic breakthrough during the 1996 
World Pain-Care symposium in Canada.

But the stuff in it that kills the pain - and makes you high - is still 
plain ol' oxycodone hydrochloride, a synthetic opiate long popular with 
dopers, especially those who want a nice, clean, government-approved rush 
they can get from a doctor instead of a thug with a gun.

Oxycodone hydrochloride is the same stuff in Percodan and Percocet, pills 
that make junkies drool. (Although OxyContin is a little "cleaner" because 
it doesn't contain aspirin or acetaminophen.)

It's a cousin to codeine, modeled after morphine and just as good as 
heroin, which was first synthesized at the end of the 1800s.

In other words, this year's bogeyman is more than 100 years old.

But the reason we've had a rash of dead OxyContin abusers in coal country 
is because of the drug's time-release properties. If you crush it to snort 
or shoot it, you get a full day's dose all in one blast. Those going for a 
maximum high can misjudge. And that can turn your heart to stone, as the 
old Motorhead song goes.

That's why anyone prescribed the drug is warned not to chew or crush the pills.

The dual-polymer matrix in OxyContin is also supposed to make it difficult 
to inject. Those who persevere are expected to suffer a necrotic abscess - 
a crusty prune of rotting flesh - at the site of injection.

Symptoms of an OxyContin overdose are just like those caused by any other 
opioid: pinpoint pupils, deep stupor or coma, shallow breathing, clammy 
skin and flabby muscles. (Friends of abusers, CALL 911, DO NOT DELAY. A 
shot of Narcan from a medic can immediately bring an OD victim back from 
the brink.)

Anyone who has felt that dreamy, detached euphoria that comes with strong 
narcotics given for severe pain or for surgery knows the buzz opioid 
abusers crave.

If you ask your doctor for these pills when you could probably treat the 
pain with Advil, or if you take more than what you're prescribed because 
you like that dreamy feeling, you're one of roughly 3 million 
prescription-drug abusers in this country.

You outnumber all of the crackheads, heroin junkies and coke freaks 
combined, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse surveys. You 
account for roughly half of the drug-related emergency room visits. Your 
pills are worth about as much as cocaine ($30 billion) each year on the 
illegal drug market, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency estimates.

But you're probably not going to get busted - felony! - on the street or at 
the airport. Your dealer's mug shot probably isn't going to play on the TV 
news with footage of bundled powder and bills.

Your drugs are trademarked, with nice names like Darvon, Dilaudid, Vicodin, 
Demerol, Percodan and now, OxyContin.

But if we're going to send our street-drug sellers and users to prison for 
being on the wrong side of the "war on drugs," isn't it high time we at 
least tried to administer the same judicial dosages to prescription drug 

As Gertrude Stein might have said, dope is dope is dope is dope.
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