Oxycontin Abuse A Rapidly Growing Problem In South Mississippi

It's a nationwide problem, but law enforcement officers say OxyContin is especially bad in the eastern United States.

Law enforcement officers aren't the only people fighting the problem. The medical community is also aware. Just last week, the state's Medical Licensing Board sent doctors a letter warning them about the growing problem of OxyContin abuse.

"It's an epidemic," Gulfport Police Investigator Pat Pope said. "It's just turned into a full blown epidemic."

Pope said OxyContin has taken the streets by storm. Drug abusers have discovered ways to manipulate the prescription painkiller.

"Basically it's a time release drug," Pope said. "The addicts have learned how to get around the time released aspect of the drug. And it gives them an intense, increased high. All at once rather than the time release formula."

Drug enforcement officers say OxyContin's popularity among abusers hasn't peaked yet.

"About a year ago, we actually started seeing where there may be a problem with it. And now it's become the drug of choice. If it continues the way it's going, I see it even surpassing cocaine," Biloxi Police Officer John Miller said.

OxyContin is a legitimate prescription painkiller. But abusers are finding all sorts of ways to get their hands on it.

"You can buy it off the street. A lot of people are getting a prescriptions from doctors," Miller said.

And some have legitimate pain. And some are just actually going to the doctor doing what they call "doctor shopping." They'll go to several different doctors and fake a pain.

"The unfortunate behavior of some criminal type folks has caused good patients to be unable to get an effective weapon against their pain," Gulfport Oncologist Dr. James Ellis said.

Despite the fact the drug is a good choice for pain relief among many cancer patients, Dr. Ellis' oncology group has quit writing new prescriptions for Oxycontin because of the abuse problem.

"One of our major tasks is to try and relieve that pain," Dr. Ellis said. "Anytime we are impaired from doing that, we feel like we're failing our patients. Unfortunately, we have to balance the good and bad of this drug. And when we looked at that balance, we really have to cutback on its use."

The primary danger from Oxycontin abuse is respiratory depression. In other words, in a worst case scenario the user stops breathing. That danger increases dramatically when Oxycontin is combined with any other drugs including alcohol.

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