As OxyContin Use Plummets, Heroin Use Skyrockets

In what’s characterized as evidence of the “utter failure” of the drug war, abuse of the prescription opiate OxyContin is down as users flock to it’s cheaper cousin, heroin.

According to The Raw Story, research published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that a newly-released and abuse-resistant form of the prescription drug has played a role in the shift to heroin. The drop has been dramatic, but so has the number of people moving to the hard stuff. The rate of heroin use across the country has nearly doubled since the new OxyContin was released.

“Our conclusion, fundamentally, is that this is sort of like the balloon analogy,” said lead researcher Dr. Theodore J. Cicero of the Washington University’s Department of Psychiatry. “If you depress one location on the balloon, the volume doesn’t change and it just pops up someplace else. Drug abuse is much like this…”

Drug addicts will take what they can to get high. When their supply is taken away, they will look for another source. In this case it’s heroin, one of the most addictive drugs in existence.

As drug makers consider making other addictive opiates into abuse-resistant formulas, officials need to consider the likely outcome of a immense population of heroin users, which, unlike prescription drugs, is unregulated and far more dangerous.

And even more than heroin, drug addicts could look for other, even cheaper illegal opiates. Desomorphine, also called “crocodile” is said to be growing in popularity in Russia. It’s cooked using codeine pills and toxic household ingredients like paint thinner and gasoline. According to The Raw Story, “heroin addicts who switch to crocodile often see their flesh literally rot off their bones.”

“We spend billions and billions trying to interdict the importation [of drugs] into the country, trying to interdict the wholesale and retail of drugs, but when’s the last time someone saw a major public service announcement saying, ‘If you have opiate dependence, there’s treatment available, call this number’?” said Dr. Robert Newman, President of The Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute.

Dr. Cicero says perhaps it’s time for government agencies to focus their attention and resources on treatment rather than the supply of drugs, a novel idea to be sure.

“What we need to focus on in government policy is not on the supply-side, which all of our policy has been toward heroin, cocaine and prescription opiods, trying to discourage their penetration into this country,” Cicero said. “The reasoning is, if we cut down on the supply then the demand will eventually dry up. But our policy in that regard has been an utter failure.”

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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