New safety measures for OxyContin are pushing people to switch to heroin.Changes designed to make OxyContin safer have driven a rise in heroin addiction. A new study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered changes to OxyContin that made it harder to abuse pushed more addicts to use dangerous drugs like Heroin.
The new form of OxyContin which was first released in 2010 is harder to crush and dissolve. This makes it far more difficult to snort or inject. The new study shows that these features worked in the short run, but there appears to be no effect on long term drug abuse.
Since the research began, the number of addicts who use OxyContin as their primary drug has decreased from 35.6% to 12.8%.
"Our data show that OxyContin use by inhalation or intravenous administration has dropped significantly since that abuse-deterrent formulation came onto the market," said principal investigator Theodore J. Cicero, PhD. "In that sense, the new formulation was very successful."
Overall OxyContin use has dropped as well. The number of addicts in the study who reported using any OxyContin in the past 30 days has fallen from 47.4% to 30%.
While all these numbers initially sound very promising, the researchers also noted some disturbing trends.
"When we asked if they had stopped using OxyContin, the normal response was 'yes,'" Cicero says. "And then when we asked about what drug they were using now, most said something like: 'Because of the decreased availability of OxyContin, I switched to heroin.'”
This is a particularly dangerous trend as heroin is not regulated and can be cut with any number of substances.
"This trend toward increases in heroin use is important enough that we want to get the word out to physicians, regulatory officials and the public, so they can be aware of what's happening," Cicero said. "Heroin is a very dangerous drug, and dealers always 'cut' the drug with something, with the result that some users will overdose. As users switch to heroin, overdoses may become more common."
This research further supports the idea that addiction requires a holistic approach. While making one drug harder to abuse is certainly a good idea, it is not a solution to the problem as a whole. By blocking one supply, regulators have only succeeded in pushing addicts to use a new and far more dangerous drug.