Study Examines OxyContin Use and Abuse

The use of pain relievers to produce benefits other than pain relief has become a significant problem in the United States. The war on drugs used to include a focus on keeping heroin and cocaine off the streets and out of the hands of children. Now, these children can easily find drugs in the family medicine cabinet. Not only do these drugs deliver intense highs, they also fetch a nice price on the street.

OxyContin is one such powerful drug with a strong street presence. An opioid agonist, it is a pain reliever often prescribed by physicians. The drug is classified as a Schedule II substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Research in the industry suggests the popularity of OxyContin among recreational users is growing.

A recent study by Carise, Leggett, Dugosh, et al. (2007), examined the rates of OxyContin use among a sample of individuals seeking treatment for addiction. This study also explored whether or not the use was a regular function of prescribed use or if it was instead the result of an illicit pattern of persisting, multiple substance use problem for an individual.

In addition to examining self-reporting information gathered from treatment patients concerning their OxyContin use history, study researchers also sought information about other drug use patterns, past treatments for drug abuse, and the reasons why participants had taken OcyContin. Abuse of the drug was described as taking it to get high or get a buzz and regular use was described as taking the drug more than three times per week for more than a year.

The study produced interesting findings regarding OxyContin use. Abusers of the drug were more likely to be white males and to have also used heroin, cocaine, and sedatives in their lifetimes, compared with non-abusers.

Half of abusers had received medication during their lifetimes, while only 30 percent of non-abusers could say the same. The study also identified that one third of the 300 people who had received a prescription for the drug sought additional medication through illicit means. One half of the 300 studied qualified for OxyContin abuse.

The findings from this study suggest that only a small portion, or five percent, of substance abuse treatment seekers use the OxyContin drug. Of those that do use it, 75 percent obtain it through illegal means. Of those who had received a legal prescription, 33 percent obtained additional medication through illegal means and 56 percent took the drug to feel intoxicated.

One limitation to this study could be the means by which the information was gathered. Not only did researchers rely on self-reporting, they also sought information from those who were already seeking treatment for addiction. This suggests more research is needed into the broader arena to identify how much risk is actually present given the increased use of OxyContin overall.

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