A highly addictive, yet perfectly legal, drug is increasingly being abused locally.
Oxycodene (also known as Endocodene, M-Oxy, OxyCotin, Percolone, Roxicodone) is a prescription drug used to treat moderate to severe pain.
But more and more people, including some North Okanagan youth, are using the pharmaceutical to get high.
The misconception is that there’s no harm in taking the narcotic, commonly referred to as ‘hillbilly heroin.’
“Because this is a pill created by the pharmacies they (users) say, ‘it’s safe,’” said Doug Rogers, substance abuse prevention counsellor in the Vernon School District, who is seeing more and more local youth abusing prescription drugs. “The mindset is: ‘it’s no big deal.’
“‘I’m not a bad kid doing illegal drugs.’”
Const. Kathy Szoboticsanec, Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP school liaison officer, adds: “They see mom taking it (for legitimate pain purposes) so it’s ‘OK.’”
Oxy is primarily used for cancer patients and those with back injuries, but is increasingly being used among youth as a recreational drug.
The same opiate as heroin (with the same effects), this ‘hillbilly heroin’ has a street value of approximately $25-50 for one 80 milligram pill/tablet, according to Tory Romailler, constable in charge of the Vernon Task Force. In the schools it has been suggested the price is even lower.
On the street, Romailler says Oxy is becoming all too common.
“In the last three years, we’ve seen it much more. We hear them talk about it as much as cocaine, heroin and crack,” he said, adding that more than 50 per cent of the dial-a-dopers are now carrying pharmaceuticals.
But unlike heroin, it carries a ‘safer and cleaner’ image.
“Heroin is a dirty drug,” said Romailler, adding that the use of oxy opens the door to new users.
“This has sort of come up the middle and is knocking all these other ones out (meth, cocaine, ecstasy),” said Rogers, adding that in the U.S. oxy is the third most commonly used substance, next to alcohol and marijuana, and Canada tends to follow suit with its southern neighbour.
The biggest problem is how accessible the drug is.
“This is sitting in the medicine cabinets,” said Szoboticsanec. “If parents have prescriptions, lock them up.”
Rogers urges parents, grandparents and other caregivers: “You better watch your medicine, you better watch your kids.”
Unlike trying to get their hands on illegal drugs, dealers can easily access oxy by purchasing unused pills from those with prescriptions or taking a little off the top of their own prescriptions.
“It’s as accessible as cocaine, more I’d say,” said Romailler.
And hiding the pills isn’t hard either.
Unlike marijuana, the pills have no odour, and since they are legal, they are often carried around in prescription bottles.
But Romailler warns parents to also watch for unsuspecting candy and mint tins.
Officials are concerned that teenagers are using oxy to self-medicate for anxiety, mental health, hormones, family issues and the stresses associated with school.
But what they may not realize is how addictive oxy is – something that doctors and physicians warn to those who legitimately take the drug.
Therefore when the refills run out and the funds dry up for illegal sales, most move onto the next best thing, which is also cheaper – heroin.
And it has already begun.
“There’s so many kids on heroin right now,” said Szoboticsanec.
Some local youth’s lives have been seen spiralling downwards into prostitution, theft and running drugs to afford their drug abuse and pay off their drug debts.
“The worst part is, when they’re battling their addiction, what they’re doing to support it,” said Szoboticsanec. “They’re at the point where they need it so they’ll do anything.”
And for those who decide to stop, or whose parents intervene, it’s often too late to quit cold turkey.
“They think that these kids can wean themselves off,” said Szoboticsanec. “They can’t. They need to be sent to a facility.”
Unfortunately, such facilities cost upwards of $50,000 – a price most families can’t afford.
Parents and caregivers concerned about oxy use with youth are urged to watch for signs of flu-like symptoms and mellow behaviour.
“If it’s beyond flu season and they constantly have the flu, have the discussion,” said Szoboticsanec, of the side effects of withdrawal.