KILLER DRUG GOES UPSCALE
Oxycontin Goes From Streets to Suites
An alarming number of Bay State professionals - lawyers, plumbers, construction workers and teachers - are getting hooked on OxyContin, the Herald has learned.
Bay State counselors say some professionals are even taking the potent pills at work. One treated a man who ground them up during coffee breaks and knows of truck drivers with "Oxy habits."
Another has seen OxyContin addicts that could literally "buy and sell" the clinics where they're getting treated.
"I've seen blue-collar workers, highly skilled professionals and lawyers. You name it, and we've seen it," said Bob Potter, director of development for Community Substance Abuse Centers.
"It just doesn't know any social class or economic level," Potter said. "If you came to a clinic and looked at the cars in the parking lots, you would be stunned."
In Massachusetts, fatal opiod overdoses, which include OxyContin and heroin, have risen from 87 in 1990 to 429 in 2002, according to the state Registry of Vital Statistics. The extremely addictive OxyContin hit the market in 1996.
Cops and counselors today are dealing with a huge increase of teenage and early 20-something OxyContin addicts, but are also seeing a disturbing number of adult professionals getting hooked. Bank accounts are being wiped out and families destroyed, they said.
"I've seen a lot of working-class people who do jobs that you wouldn't particularly want them to take OxyContin while their doing it," said D. Stewart Jester, a licensed mental health counselor in Arlington.
"Some are doing it on the job," Jester said. "I'm very concerned about it."
Many professionals get hooked after getting an "OC" prescription for severe back pain, post-surgery pain and other ailments. The time-released pills are designed to work over 12 hours, but when chewed, crushed and snorted, abusers get a quick heroin-like high.
Others get it from co-workers and pals.
"What happens is, they might normally have gone out and gone drinking to release stress from their jobs and they will take OxyContin or snort OxyContin or shoot it up to get high instead of drinking,"
Mark Cassidy, 45, got hooked on OxyContin after it was prescribed to him for back pain. The former florist was kicked out of his home and sleeping in his car.
Cassidy, who has been drug-free for nearly three years, used to shop around for different doctors to get a prescription.
"It consumes your life. That's what you do everyday," said Cassidy, who now works as a counselor's aide at the Miller House on Cape Cod.
On the street, "OC's" sell for $1 a milligram or about $80 for an 80 milligram tablet. But when the money runs out, many addicts turn to heroin, which sells for about $4 a bag and whose purity is stronger than ever today. It also can be snorted.
Bay State officials fear a rise in burglaries and violent crime when the price of heroin goes up.
State police Lt. Kenneth Gill said the OxyContin problem has created a whole new generation of heroin users. He said OxyContin "doesn't discriminate."
"We're seeing all different types of people that are using it," said Gill, who is assigned to the Essex County District Attorney's office, where cops have seen businessmen and homemakers at drug houses during stakeouts.
Potter said OxyContin use in the Bay State is more widespread than it's ever been.
"It's just flooded the communities," said Potter, whose center runs 10 methadone clinics in three states. "It's probably easier to get OxyContin than a quality bag of marijuana in any community in Massachusetts."
What is OxyContin?
One of the most effective pain relievers ever devised, OxyContin (trade name oxycodone hydrochloride) has been prescribed for cancer, back pain and other injuries since 1996.
An agonist opiod, it stimulates opiod receptors throughout the central nervous system, creating sensations from pain release to euphoria. The more you take, the better you feel until more is needed to feel better, leading to powerful addiction.
To avoid the controlled-release mechanism in prescription pills, abusers chew, snort or inject OxyContin to get an instant "high."
An 80 milligram tablet costs $6 legally and between $65 and $80 on the street.
Nine percent of all Americans (19.9 million) have used pain relievers illegally at some point in the lives, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.