Percs, Oxys & Sprinkles

Vicodin. Lortab. Fentanyl. To people suffering from serious pain, these powerful drugs are a godsend. Most patients prescribed these and other commonly misused drugs never abuse them. They are able to work with their doctor and manage their drugs safely. While prescription drug abuse is a serious problem, it’s important to remember that the problem is not the drugs themselves, but addiction, abuse and misuse.

Amber and her boyfriend bought a patch of Fentanyl from another friend for a Friday night party. Fentanyl is an opiate pain reliever 100 times more potent than morphine. It is designed to be delivered to the body over the course of three days in the form of a slow-release clear patch attached to the skin. Doctors usually prescribe Fentanyl to people coming out of surgery or to people with chronic pain conditions. Amber and her boyfriend had no intention of sticking the patch to themselves; they smoked it.
Dan hurt his back on the job. A doctor prescribed Vicodin, a powerful opiate pain reliever. At first, Dan followed the doctor’s orders and took a pill only to keep ahead of the pain. But he noticed the drug did more than relieve his back, it made him feel good. Soon, he started taking the drug even when he didn’t have any pain; he liked the way it made him feel.

Which Drugs are Abused? The drugs most commonly present in drug-related deaths in Montana are hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and Fentanyl.

  • Vicodin and Lortab contain hydrocodone, the most frequently prescribed opiate in the U.S.
  • OxyContin (“oxy”), Percodan and Percocet (“percs”) contain oxycodone, which treats pain but has a long history of abuse. These are most popular among teens.
  • Methadone is generally used to treat addiction to heroin and other opiates, but carries its own potential for abuse.
  • Fentanyl, most often in the form of a patch, is a pain reliever 100 times more potent that morphine.
Abuse refers to the non-medical use of medications or the illicit use of prescription drugs purchased on the street. For example, the use of drugs that are stolen or given to someone other than the person with the prescription would be classified as abuse.
Misuse refers to using prescription drugs in ways they aren’t meant to be used, such as mixing medications or taking more than the dose your doctor prescribed.

Why would anybody do this? While abusers and misusers make up a minority of folks using these drugs, that number is growing and presenting an increasingly serious problem to our public safety and our public health.
People abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • a perception that prescription drugs are “safe,” or at least safer than street drugs like cocaine and heroin.
  • a perception that misusing or sharing these drugs is not illegal, when in reality it may be considered a felony.
  • the highly addictive nature of many prescription drugs.
  • a lack of training within the medical and pharmaceutical professions. Only a minority of doctors, nurses and pharmacists have received training in recognizing and dealing with addiction or drug diversion.