Snorting of prescription drugs such as OxyContin is not as unusual as one might think. Many of the OxyContin addicts questioned to in Kentucky and West Virginia used to snort or chew a mild Oxycodone-based painkiller called Tylox. They said they found the pills somewhat euphoric and not very addictive -- each Tylox contains just 5 milligrams of Oxycodone, along with 500 milligrams of acetaminophen. When OxyContin arrived on the scene, in pills containing 20, 40 and 80 milligrams of Oxycodone, it marked a jump in purity similar to that of early-90's heroin -- and again, casual users started snorting, and then shooting, a powerful opioid.
Despite the medication's controlled distribution, some rural-area drug abusers discovered they could get high by crushing OxyContin pills - thereby thwarting the time-release mechanism - and then snorting the powder. The discovery sparked a wave of abuse of illegally obtained OxyContin.
But by crushing the pills, users are bypassing the drug's protective coating. They're snorting, shooting and chewing it for a rapid rush that resembles heroin. In fact, police are finding that OxyContin abusers who run out of the drug and can't find more on the street are turning to heroin, which is cheaper.
One 20-year-old recovering OxyContin addict interviewed last week at Gateway comes from an upscale Pittsburgh neighborhood and is enrolled in a local university. He and three other recovering users were interviewed on condition of anonymity.
A pill popper since about age 15, he discovered OxyContin after his supply of crystal methamphetamine dried up. At his peak OxyContin abuse, he was taking 240 milligrams a day to function, 500 milligrams to get high. He peeled or licked off the coating, then crushed the pills with a coin before snorting them.
"I was selling them to use them," he said. "It's that warm, blissful rush. It just makes everything surreal. You just float through life."
When his supplier got caught by police, he switched to heroin after six months on OxyContin.