OxyContin, a powerful narcotic meant for cancer patients and others with searing pain, is designed to release its active ingredient, oxycodone, over 12 hours. After it was introduced in 1996, says the New York Times, drug abusers quickly discovered that chewing an OxyContin tablet — or crushing one and snorting the powder, or injecting it with a needle — produced an instant high as powerful as heroin. It has been blamed for waves of addiction that have ravaged some areas, and has been a factor in many overdose deaths.
Drug abuse experts, law enforcement officials and addicts say a reformulation of the drug has only driven up interest for other narcotics. Demand appears high for pure oxycodone pills that come in a 30-milligram dose, called “Perc 30s” or “Roxies” on the street. Opana, a time-release painkiller similar to OxyContin that has been on the market for five years, is showing up increasingly in police reports and has been blamed for a rash of overdose deaths. Heroin use has jumped sharply in many regions. “It's just a matter of switching,” said John Burke, commander of the drug task force in Warren County, Oh., and president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. “If I'm an addict, I'm going to find a drug that works.”