can deliver a high similar to that of a heroin rush.
Many teens who abuse OxyContin crush up the 12-hour
time release pills and snort them, so they get hit
with all the opiate at once.
& 12th Graders
Percentage of 12th
graders who reported using OxyContin in the year prior
to being surveyed:
The use of OxyContin
has risen by almost 40 percent among 12th graders
since 2002. The powerful prescription painkiller can
be highly addictive when abused.
NPR Online/University of
Michigan/2005 Monitoring the Future Study
OxyContin and Addiction
Doctors say opiates
like OxyContin are highly effective for treating
pain. And patients are much less likely to get
addicted if they use these drugs in just the dosage
necessary to treat their pain.
But when a person starts taking opiates when they
are not in pain, or in doses beyond what is required
to treat their pain, doctors say the drugs have a
different metabolic impact on the brain. In those
situations, addiction is highly likely.
Other Key Findings
rise of OxyContin abuse among teens is reported in
"Monitoring the Future," the National Institute on
Drug Abuse's annual survey of children in grades
eight, 10 and 12. The study surveyed 49,347
students in 402 public and private schools. Among
the report's other key findings:
-- Half of all students today try an illicit drug
by the time they finish high school.
-- Overall, the report found a 19 percent decline
over the past four years in the use of any illegal
drug in the month before the survey was done.
-- Decreases were seen in the past month, past
year and lifetime use of methamphetamine among
12th graders and in lifetime use among 10th
-- Between 2002 and 2005, lifetime and past year
use of inhalants increased among 8th graders.
-- Use of alcohol during the year before the
survey was down 2.7 percent among 8th graders;
down 1.5 percent among 10th graders; and down 2.1
percent among 12th graders.
-- Lifetime use of cigarettes declined 2 percent
among 8th graders, 1.7 percent among 10th graders
and 2.8 percent among 12th graders.
-- Between 2001 and 2005, lifetime and last-year
use of steroids declined for all grades.
All Things Considered,
December 19, 2005 · About 1 in 20
high school seniors now acknowledges taking OxyContin, a
prescription drug for managing severe pain that, when
abused, can be powerfully addictive.
In its annual survey of
teen drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports
that OxyContin use by 12th graders is up 40 percent
nationwide in just three years. Five times as many 12th
graders report using OxyContin than report using
methamphetamine. The results have been tragic.
Prescription drugs are the
second-most used drugs among teens, behind marijuana. Teens
are doing stimulants, barbiturates and painkillers. Many
don't realize how highly addictive and dangerous some of
these pills can be -- OxyContin in particular.
"I was sick as a dog and I
was in bed and I couldn't believe it. I was actually
scared," recalls 17-year-old Ryan, a high school senior from
Ryan, who asked that NPR
use only his first name, is enrolled at a drug-treatment
clinic at Children's Hospital in Boston. He says he first
tried OxyContin at a party when he was 16. Kids crush up the
12-hour time release pills and snort them, so they get hit
with all the opiate at once. Ryan says pot made him feel "weirded
out." OxyContin just made him feel good -- warm and relaxed.
And it's easy to get.
always someone who has it," he says. "There's kids selling
it. I know alone, like, 10 kids selling it themselves."
But just a week after he
started using OxyContin, Ryan realized that if he didn't get
a pill every day or two, he'd start to feel sick. So he kept
using it. He says he had no idea how bad he was hooked until
the next time he tried to stop.
"It was like somebody was
inside of your head with a hammer," Ryan recalls. "You feel
like you're going to die. Just laying there in the bed,
sweat pouring off of you... Then five minutes later, you're
freezing… then you'd be throwing up."
A Pricey Habit
is very expensive on the street: $80 for one pill. To pay
for his habit, Ryan says he cashed $7,000 in savings bonds
his aunts had given him on birthdays. He sold his
PlayStation, leather jackets, cell phone -- everything he
had -- just to stay high and keep from getting sick. He
finally broke down and asked his parents for help.
Looking back on it, Ryan
says he didn't think using OxyContin would be that dangerous
because it was a prescription pill -- that made it seem
safe. Many different kids at his high school were playing
around with it, he says: "People from every sort of group --
the burnouts, athletic kids, the geniuses and, like, girls
playing wicked-good softball [who were] offered scholarships
to places -- they would be using it."
That sentiment is echoed by
18-year-old Mike, a recovering OxyContin addict in Winthrop,
Mass. Mike says he was always an athlete and played
football. Until his sophomore year in high school, he
attended a prep school with wealthier students; he later
transferred to the local public school. He says that, if
anything, he saw more OxyContin at the prep school.
"All the popular kids --
that was the cool thing to do," Mike says. "It seemed like
it was cool because it was so expensive, this big rich drug.
And a lot of rich kids were doing it because the poor kids
couldn't afford it."
is so expensive that many teens turn to stealing to support
"I stole so much money from
my parents," says Katie, 18, who is also a recovering
OxyContin habit. She says she and a friend both stole their
parents' ATM cards to support their habits. "I stole $5,000
from my parents in two months."
Katie also wrote checks
from her mother's checkbook. Katie's parents say she and her
friends stole cameras and jewelry from their house. Somebody
stole her father's wedding ring out of his top drawer.
"It's like someone just
punched you in the stomach," Katie's father said in an
interview with NPR. "You know you're never going to get it
back. And what did it get used for? The addiction."
Gateway to Heroin
Katie's parents say they
feel lucky to still have their daughter. More than a year
has passed since they enrolled her into a treatment
program. She's relapsed twice. Doctors say OxyContin
addiction can plague people for years.
And some users move on to
heroin. It is much cheaper than OxyContin, and it
satisfies the same craving. Instead of $80 a pill, heroin
costs about $5 a bag around Boston. One night when Katie
was getting sick and desperate, she called a women she'd
used OxyContin with before whom she knew also used heroin.
"I didn't think if she
had heroin I would do it," Katie recalls, "but then when I
had that option -- to be sick or do this -- I did that."
All the teens interviewed
for this story said they knew at least one young person
who had overdosed and died recently either on OxyContin or
on heroin after first getting hooked on OxyContin.
Cheryl Oates of the
middle-class suburb of Burlington, Mass., knows the deadly
repercussions of OxyContin addiction all too well. Two
months ago, her 19-year-old son, Christopher, died of a
Oates says her son was
not the kind of teen one would expect to become a drug
addict. He was a captain of his football and wrestling
teams at Burlington High School and popular among his
teammates. He got good grades and didn't have behavior
problems, Oates says.
"He was the kind of kid
who would walk through the mall with me and hold my hand,"
Oates says. "He didn't care what other people thought and
said. Christopher was just his own person."
But by his junior year,
Christopher was experimenting with Percocet, another
opioid painkiller. It had been prescribed to him for a
football injury. By his senior year, he and some friends
were using OxyContin; they got hooked. Soon after he
graduated, he started using heroin, too.
"The night before
Christopher overdosed, we sat in the kitchen and we talked
until three in the morning," Oates says. "And he said he
knew he needed help. He was such a good kid and he loved
so much. And he got grabbed by something that was greater
Oates says she'd tell
other parents to keep all prescription medications in a
locked cabinet, just to make it harder for teens to start
experimenting with them. She says it is frightening that
more than 5 percent of high school seniors nationally now
report using OxyContin in the past year.