Alice G. Walton

What was once thought to be a boon for the medical community seems to be backfiring, as “non-addictive” prescription drugs are effectively ushering users to street drugs instead. Two years ago, a non-addictive (or “abuse-deterrent”) form of the widely prescribed opioid OxyContin was made available for doctors to prescribe. Its main differences are that it’s harder to mash up for snorting purposes, and less dissolvable in liquid for injection purposes. But as promising as the drug was once thought to be, users are still getting their high by turning to other, more dangerous drugs.

“Our data show that OxyContin use by inhalation or intravenous administration has dropped significantly since that abuse-deterrent formulation came onto the market,” says Theodore J. Cicero, a professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. “In that sense, the new formulation was very successful.”

OxyContin used for the purpose of getting high dropped from 47% in people who were opioid abusers to 30%, after the new “abuse-deterrent formulation” was released.

But people don’t seem to be conquering their opioid addictions – rather, they’re simply turning elsewhere to get a similar high.

During the same year-long period, heroin use doubled, pointing out unwanted and perhaps unanticipated effects of the new “non-addictive” formulation. “The most unexpected, and probably detrimental, effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation was that it contributed to a huge surge in the use of heroin, which is like OxyContin in that it also is inhaled or injected,” says Cicero.

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