How the Oxy Crackdown Is Breeding Heroin Addiction

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Nov. 14 2013 9:46 AM

How the Oxy Crackdown Is Breeding Heroin Addiction

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All of the pills.

Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty Images

Tom Jackman writes about growing police concern that people who become addicted to prescription opiates rapidly progress to using heroin, "because it was cheaper and easier to get."

One 32-year-old woman from Manassas reflects the human toll. She started taking oxycodone, which cost $80 for an 80-milligram dose, because, she said, “I had a doctor prescribing anything I wanted.” The doctor was later arrested, but by then the woman had switched from “oxy” to “roxy,” or roxicodone, a similar opiate that was more readily available on the street.

She spent her days working just enough to make the money to get drugs.
She said she moved from pain pills, which she crushed and snorted, to smoking crack for a time. Then she went back to roxicodone. But “you can’t afford $80 for a pill,” she said. “That’s why the dope [heroin] came in. Plus, you couldn’t get the oxys anymore” because of police crackdowns, “so people just started to go to dope.”

This is in part a story about the unintended consequences of certain kinds of drug enforcement measures. I remember when I was a kid it was easier to get marijuana than beer precisely because marijuana was illegal, while bodegas had a perfectly legal beer selling franchise that was imperiled by selling to minors. Now from a public health perspective, pushing teens to smoke pot rather than drink is probably a good idea so that's not so bad. But pushing people to inject heroin rather than taking oxy is a serious issue. 

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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