In between bags of heroin, a New York City addict the Village Voice calls Chris obtained Suboxone, a prescription painkiller used to treat opiate addiction. Suboxone eliminated the agonizing heroin withdrawal, the “three days of complete hell” he had to go through every time he tried not to use heroin. Chris bought the drug from a friend who had a prescription and lots of leftovers, which he was willing to sell to Chris for $5 a pop.
The technical term for what Chris and other dealers are doing is “diversion,” and it is illegal. Selling your meds is a class C felony in New York, carrying a minimum of one year and a maximum of 10 in prison. In the case of Suboxone and its generic equivalents, diversion is also increasingly common. Suboxone has been on the market in the U.S. since the late 1990s. Over the past two years, sales have skyrocketed, corresponding to a rise in heroin and (especially) painkiller addiction. The number of pain-pill prescriptions hovered around 209.5 million in 2010; the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 5 million people in the U.S. abuse painkillers. It’s hardly surprising that a drug that can help people get off opiates has become a runaway success.