OxyContin is a Gateway to Heroin

Black Market OxyContin Worth Millions

Prescription drug abuse has created a growing black market demand for pain killers like OxyContin as well as for drugs used to treat depression and anxiety.  Using data from federal law enforcement agencies, CNN recently published a comparison of street versus legal prescription drug prices:

  • OxyContin: up to $80 on the street compared to $6 with a prescription.
  • Hydrocodone and/or Vicodin: up to $25 compared to $1.50.
  • Percocet: up to $15 compared to $6.

The high price of black market OxyContin and other illegal prescription drugs is driven by a growing demand.  Even after the release of OxyContin’s new formulation the drug is the primary target of opiate addicted abusers. The DEA reports that 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2009, up 13% from 2008.  The agency expects there to be another double-digit percentage change in users in 2010.  Abuse of prescription drugs has spread throughout the nation, with major cities like New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles being especially hard hit.  The large potential profits that can be gained from the sale of illegal prescription drugs are attracting both career criminals and individuals who are trying to finance their own addiction.  Drug experts say the market for black market prescription drugs could be worth up to $1 billion.

According to Rusty Payne of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, prescription drugs are now the most important gateway drug, a role that in the past has been played by marijuana.  A gateway drug traditionally is the substance used by first-time drug abusers before they move on to other more addictive substances.  The difference with this new trend is that many of the prescription drugs being abused are far more dangerous than marijuana, putting first-time abusers at immediate risk of addiction.

Prescription drugs are obtained for black market sale in several different ways.  Drug shipments may be stolen, unethical doctors may write false prescriptions or in some cases legal prescription drugs are stolen by family members for resale.  Medicare fraud is another source of illegal prescription drugs, with beneficiaries selling their medication to dealers.  The bottom line for the average American who doesn’t abuse prescription drugs is a rise in health care costs due to drug theft and diversion.

The profit to be gained from black market prescription drugs can also be blamed for an increase in neighborhood pharmacy robberies and break-ins.  CNN reports that more than 1,800 robberies have occurred in pharmacies since 2008.  In reaction, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) has initiated a program called Protect Your Pharmacy Now to teach pharmacy owners how to increase their security to avoid theft.  Many pharmacies are refusing to stock Oxycontin and other prescription drugs that have become targets for abuse.  This is a sad situation for people who are living with pain, anxiety or depression and have a legitimate need for these drugs.

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