As OxyContin Abuse Drops, Heroin Use Increases, Study Finds

A new study finds that OxyContin abuse has decreased now that the painkiller has been reformulated to make it more difficult to misuse. Many people who abused the drug have switched to heroin, the researchers report in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The study included more than 2,500 people who were dependent on opioids, who were followed between July 2009 and March 2012. During that time, there was a 17 percent decrease in OxyContin abuse. In 2010, the company that makes OxyContin introduced a new version of the drug that is more difficult to inhale or inject.

During the same period, heroin abuse doubled, ABC News reports.

“I think the message we have to take away from this is that there are both anticipated consequences and unanticipated consequences to these new formulas,” lead researcher Theodore Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis said. “Substance abuse is like a balloon: If you press in one spot, it bulges in another.”

The study found almost one-fourth of participants were able to abuse OxyContin despite the reformulation, and 66 percent switched to heroin. The article notes that a small bag of heroin can cost as little as $5, compared with an 80-milligram dose of OxyContin, which can cost up to $80 on the street.

“Our data show that an abuse-deterrent formulation successfully reduced abuse of a specific drug but also generated an unanticipated outcome: replacement of the abuse-deterrent formulation with alternative opioid medications and heroin, a drug that may pose a much greater overall risk to public health than OxyContin,” the researchers wrote. “Thus, abuse-deterrent formulations may not be the ‘magic bullets’ that many hoped they would be in solving the growing problem of opioid abuse.”

USA Today reported on Wednesday that misuse of the opioid Opana has increased since OxyContin was reformulated.

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    Lloyd Goodwin

    July 20, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    Big Pharma should be congratulated as they managed to present to the public that they are trying to fight substance abuse. Now we have exchanged a drug with known contents and dosage with street heroin with unknown content and dosage. Another coup for Big Pharma and problem for harm reduction adovocates.

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    addiction advice

    July 19, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    I think that people are now familiar enough with the different drugs around to be able to jump from one to another when their usual one is taken away from them for whatever reason.
    The only solution to break this habit is to get the right kind of addiction advice.
    Without professional help and support the chances of anyone sorting out their life is extremely small, no matter whether the drug companies take products off the market or whatever

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    July 13, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Nobody should be surprised by the substitution of heroin by existing users. Once you’re at the point of smashing & snorting or cooking & shooting, moving to the cheaper street version is no big deal (and would eventually happen to most anyway.) Hopefully the new formulation will lessen the number of folks who get to that point in the first place. Any numbers/studies on that outcome?

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    Fred C

    July 13, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    “unanticipated outcome” Really? ‘Who could have possibly imagined that opiate addicts would seek another source of opiates, We expected they would all get clean. It’s just amazing.’ The drug company has succeeded in getting the spotlight off themselves, which is what they wanted, but unanticipated? pull the other one.

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    Bill Poel

    July 12, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    Heroin use has been on the increase long before the reformulation of Oxycontin. It has always been much cheaper. Unforunately many young middle class kids have figured that out and the results have been devastating. We have a serious battle on our hands as traditional US treatment has a very poor track record dealing with opiate addiction. Don’t be fooled into thinking replacing one drug with another will solve the problem – it won’t. There needs to be a total shift in thinking as far as dealing with opiate addiction. Methadone, Suboxone,Vivitrol are bandaids-they do not solve the problem.

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