Dangers Of Hillbilly Heroin: OxyContin Vs. Heroin

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OxyContin, otherwise known as Hillbilly Heroin, is a prescription opioid with traits similar to heroin. The drug was heavily prescribed in the 1990s, leading to a dramatic increase in cases of opioid addiction and contributing to the current opioid epidemic.

Dangers Of Hillbilly Heroin

OxyContin is the brand name for a sustained-release version of oxycodone, created by opioid manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.

OxyContin was the central feature of an aggressive marketing campaign by Purdue, which dramatically increased the number of doctors prescribing the drug.

While the drug is a beneficial tool for pain relief, the addictive properties of the drug were played down. As a result, it is considered one of the substances that began the current opioid epidemic.

Despite not being a type of heroin, OxyContin does share many characteristics with heroin and morphine.

While morphine is a natural opiate derived from the opium poppy, heroin and OxyContin are both semi-synthetic narcotic analgesics created from thebaine, which is also found in the poppy.

As a result of their chemical similarities, OxyContin has many of the same effects as heroin and morphine.

What Is Hillbilly Heroin?

Hillbilly Heroin or “Poor Man’s Heroin” is another name for OxyContin that references the socioeconomic divides routinely found in opioid abuse.

In the case of “Hillbilly Heroin,” the name calls attention to the fact that many of the jobs worked by poor people living in rural areas are high-risk and high-stress.

A person who works in a mine is far more likely to sustain a serious injury in need of a powerful painkiller than someone who works at a desk.

The forcible push of OxyContin ensured that many of these men and women were prescribed a highly addictive painkiller without full knowledge of its addictive properties.

With access to affordable medications through Medicare and Medicaid, the nation’s most vulnerable were being prescribed OxyContin at an alarming rate.

The Onset Of The Opioid Epidemic

OxyContin became a key feature of the opioid epidemic. The widespread use of the prescription led to widespread physical dependence and created a profitable market for illegal pills.

The areas most directly impacted were the rural Appalachians, primarily in Kentucky and West Virginia.

As providers became more aware of opioid misuse, many began to limit patient access to further medication, causing people to try “doctor shopping” and other drug-seeking behaviors.

Differences Between Pure Heroin And OxyContin

OxyContin or oxycodone hydrochloride (oxycodone HCL) is a legally available prescription painkiller that is classified as a Schedule II narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act.

Just as “Hillbilly Heroin” can refer to oxycodone or other opioids, sometimes oxycodone is also referred to as “synthetic heroin” although they are similar but not necessarily the same.

The purest heroin is often a brown or white powder. Heroin is a Schedule I narcotic substance because it has no medicinal purpose and presents a risk to public health.

Albeit, because the effects are similar, some who started with prescription opioids may eventually turn to heroin.

Chemical Makeup Of OxyContin Vs. Heroin

Though heroin and OxyContin are similar, there are differences in their chemical structure.

Oxycodone HCL’s molecular formula is C18H22ClNO4. It is the hydrochloride salt of oxycodone. Similar to other opioids, it binds to mu-receptors and is an opioid agonist.

Heroin, otherwise known as diamorphine or diacetylmorphine, is also a semisynthetic opioid from the acetylation of morphine. Its molecular structure is C21H23NO5.

Heroin has a weak affinity for mu-receptors and doesn’t produce positive effects, such as euphoria until it is metabolized into 6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) and then morphine.

6-MAM or 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM) is unique to heroin, allowing drug tests to differentiate illicit drug use from prescription drug use.

Methods Of Use

Methods of use are similar for most opioids. OxyContin typically comes in white 10- to 80-milligram (mg) tablets or in immediate-release 5 mg capsules.

The prescription medication is typically taken orally and can last up to 12 hours. This method offers longer-lasting pain relief.

However, if bought illicitly, the counterfeit product can contain a mixture of different substances, including Xanax, fentanyl, and amphetamines. These combinations can be extremely deadly.

Prescription Vs. Illicit

OxyContin is often abused by:

  • chewing the tablets
  • crushing tablets and snorting them
  • vapor inhalation
  • intravenous injection by dissolving tablets in an injectable solution

Using alternate methods of administration can increase the bioavailability of the drug, resulting in the absorption of higher doses and increasing the risk of overdose.

Alternate methods of abuse also come with their own risks.

For example, inhalation can damage the nasal cavity, and intravenous use can significantly increase the risk of infection, blood-borne disease, overdose, and death.

Heroin has many similar methods of abuse, but there are limitations depending on the form. Pure heroin powder is most often snorted, while black tar heroin is most often injected.

Effects Of OxyContin

Below are some of the physical, mental, and long-term effects of OxyContin use.

Many of these effects are similar to those caused by other central nervous system depressants, like benzodiazepines and other opioids. In fact, OxyContin shares many of the effects of heroin.

Physical Effects Of OxyContin

  • fatigue
  • relaxation
  • alleviation of pain
  • sedation
  • respiratory depression
  • constipation
  • dilation of pupils
  • cough suppression
  • chills
  • loss of strength
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • headache
  • lightheadedness/dizziness
  • yawning
  • itching
  • dry mouth

Mental Effects Of OxyContin

  • anxiety
  • euphoria
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • paranoia

Long-Term Effects Of OxyContin

  • facial bone necrosis
  • narcotic-induced intracranial ischemia
  • hallucinations/delusions
  • memory trouble
  • possible kidney damage
  • possible liver damage
  • myoclonus
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • infection
  • possible disease
  • blockages
  • inflammation
  • addiction
  • death

Dangers Of OxyContin Abuse

Effective pain relief can be a lifesaver that provides a sense of normalcy to people who have chronic pain. Unfortunately, addiction can severely undermine that relief.

Continued use of OxyContin can lead to serious health complications as well as an increased risk of overdose and death, but withdrawal can further complicate a miserable situation.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • jerking leg movement
  • mood disorders
  • muscle and bone pain.

Treatment For OxyContin Abuse And Addiction

Treatment options for OxyContin abuse and addiction include medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone.

These treatments can help mitigate the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal. You can also find inpatient and outpatient options, including mental health care from licensed professionals.

Find Help For OxyContin Addiction Today

If our society has learned anything from the opioid epidemic, it is that addiction doesn’t discriminate. It is a mental health disorder that can affect anyone.

If you or your loved one is stuck in a cycle of addiction, we can help you find the resources you need to get treatment. Contact us today.


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