The hidden epidemic of a billion dollars “man made super profit industry” Prescription drugs
Oxycontin – the hidden epidemic: How the misuse of powerful prescription drugs is creating a new generation of addicts. Experts fear Australia faces a new drug epidemic, and the source is not the warlords of Afghanistan or bikie gangs, but your local doctor or chemist. Prescription opioids are fast replacing heroin, cocaine and ice as the drug of choice in the illicit markets. On the streets of Kings Cross, users are injecting them at nearly twice the rate of heroin. “It’s the hidden heroin. It’s pure heroin in a pill,” said one addict. But it is in the towns and suburbs where prescription opioids are silently taking a hold and having the greatest impact. Everyday people who are being prescribed opioid pills such as Oxycontin, MS Contin and OxyNorm are becoming hooked, and a whole new generation of addicts is being created. Ruth Arrigo’s story is typical. She was a busy mother raising two sons, and her problems started when she strained her back working in a supermarket. Her pain persisted and nothing seemed to help until her doctor prescribed OxyNorm. She did not know much about the drugs but soon she had a raging habit. “It’s actually like being an addict of anything, whether it’s heroin or gambling or alcohol, you look for it all the time,” she said. Ruth’s addiction began to destroy her life and family, and she took an overdose of OxyNorm to end her life. “I never want to go back there, and what you go through it’s horrible,” she said. “You do get to the stage where you want to end your life because it gets on top of you.” Ms Arrigo got help and now her life is back on track, but many other Australians are not so lucky. Sydney University’s Professor Nick Lintzeris says there could be as many as 100,000 people who are addicted to the powerful painkillers. Addiction specialist Professor Jon Currie says the problem is that GPs do not have the time or the skills to treat chronic pain properly. “A tablet will fix everything is not the answer,” said Professor Currie, who has started a campaign to educate GPs about the dangers of prescription opioids. “The answer is to talk to the person and see what would be best for them, and often it’s not a tablet and particularly not Oxycontin.” Prescription opioids are also taking a hold among recreational users, and often with fatal consequences. Just over two weeks ago, Oxycontin took another casualty – Neumann Friar, 37, who went on a week’s holiday to visit his girlfriend in Surfers Paradise. The father of two made the fatal mistake of combining alcohol, valium and Oxycontin and died of an overdose. His grieving parents, Richard and Wendy Friar, want some answers. They believe Neumann had no idea how potent Oxycontin is and they want to know why it was so easy for their son to get the drugs. “I know that Neumann would not be dead if he didn’t get these tablets, and the reason he’s dead is that in an opportunistic way he was able to find a doctor who wrote him a prescription,” Mrs Friar said. Health professionals say there is a solution – real-time monitoring of opioid prescription. At the moment users can doctor shop, meaning they can go to different doctors to obtain several scripts and get the pills from chemists with no-one being the wiser. Kos Sclavos, head of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, says real-time monitoring will alert both doctors and pharmacists to potential misuse and abuse of the powerful medications. “We’re probably talking about hundreds of Australians perhaps losing their life to misuse of these products, when something could have been done to avoid this,” he said. Experts warn that unless a detailed response is developed soon, this potential drug epidemic may not be stopped.