Among Prescription Painkillers, Drug Abusers Prefer Oxycodone

prescriiption pad“A nationwide survey of opioid drug abusers in rehab indicates that because of the high it produces, the prescription painkiller oxycodone is the most popular drug of choice. Hydrocodone, also prescribed to treat pain, is next in line. In all, some 75 percent of those surveyed rated one of these drugs as their favorite.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Nova Southeastern University in Miami questioned more than 3,500 people in 160 drug-treatment programs across the United States, asking which drugs they abuse and why. Oxycodone was favored by 45 percent, and hydrocodone was preferred by about 30 percent.

Although the drugs are meant to be taken orally, almost 64 percent of oxycodone abusers and just over one-quarter of hydrocodone abusers crushed the tablets and inhaled the drug, while one in five oxycodone abusers reported that they sometimes dissolved the drug in water and injected it. Less than 5 percent reported taking hydrocodone intravenously.

Personality, age and gender all played a role in drug preferences, the research showed. Oxycodone was attractive to those who enjoy taking risks and prefer to inject or snort drugs to get high. Young, male drug users tend to fit that profile.

In contrast, hydrocodone is the more popular choice among women, older people, people who don’t want to inject drugs and those who prefer to deal with a doctor or friend rather than a drug dealer.

The research is published in the current issue of the journal PAIN.

“Opioids are prescribed to treat pain, but their misuse has risen dramatically in recent years,” said principal investigator Theodore J. Cicero, PhD, a Washington University researcher who studies prescription drug abuse. “Our goal is to understand the personal characteristics of people who are susceptible to drug abuse, so we can detect problems ahead of time.”

Among those surveyed, 54 percent said the quality of the high was considered much better for oxycodone, compared with 20 percent who preferred the high they got from hydrocodone.

“Among the reasons addicts prefer oxycodone is that they can get it in pure form,” Cicero said. “Until recently, all drugs with hydrocodone as their active ingredient also contained another product such as acetaminophen, the pain reliever in Tylenol. That turns out to be very important because addicts don’t like acetaminophen.”

Acetaminophen causes considerable irritation when it’s injected, and when taken orally in large amounts, it can cause severe liver damage, he explained.

“Interestingly, addicts, while they’re harming their health in one respect by taking these drugs, report being very concerned about the potentially negative side effects of acetaminophen,” said Cicero, a professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry.

Those side effects, combined with a preference for the high provided by oxycodone, have led drug abusers to seek out that drug, either on the street or by visiting physicians and attempting to convince doctors that they have pain severe enough to warrant a prescription pain killer.

Cicero is concerned with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent approval of a new, pure form of hydrocodone without acetaminophen, a formulation he expects will be attractive to abusers.

The study also found that even among people in treatment for drug dependence, there seems to be little appetite for moving to stronger prescription narcotics such as fentanyl or various derivatives of morphine.”

The press release can be accessed at: http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/26204.aspx

Source: Washington University School of Medicine – November 25, 2013

 

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