Most of us are aware by now of the origins of the opioid epidemic – if nothing else, because of all the ongoing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. In the 1990s, the drug manufacturers marketed opioids aggressively, making what turned out to be patently false claims about their safety and low potential for abuse, pushing them on doctors who they then rewarded for overprescribing the drugs. People became addicted to the opioids and began misusing them, and then turned to other drugs like heroin when they were no longer enough.

One such company was Purdue Pharma, with the then-newly released OxyContin, which it advertised as safer than other opioids. One reason for this claim was that it was meant to be an extended-release drug, meaning the opioids would gradually be released into a person’s system over the course of 12 hours. In theory, this would make it harder to misuse. Naturally, people found a way around this and began crushing the pill, either to snort it or to liquefy and inject it. In 2010, Purdue tried to walk back some of the damage by replacing the old, extended-release OxyContin with an abuse-deterrent formula. When this pill is crushed, it turns into a sort of gummy form, making it difficult to snort or inject. This did make it somewhat harder to misuse, but as always, addicts found a way.

Now, a paper released in April 2018 through the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that this formulation that was meant to deter abuse actually led to an increase in heroin addiction and overdoses. Basically, it became too much of a hassle to take OxyContin recreationally. You could still take it orally, but it wouldn’t give you an immediate high. There are ways around the reformulation that still allow it to be taken by other means, but again, it proved to be more work than people looking for a quick high were willing to do. Instead, individuals addicted to the opioid began looking for faster, easier, and cheaper methods – namely, heroin. The study concluded that after August 2010, when the abuse-deterrent formula was released, there was a spike in heroin overdose deaths that has continued an upward climb to this day.


This doesn’t mean that Purdue was wrong to introduce the abuse-deterrent version of OxyContin. It may well have been very effective if there weren’t other drugs out there that people could turn to instead. And the truth is that many people move on to more potent drugs over time anyway, as they become more tolerant and require larger doses to feel the same effects. It’s entirely possible that the majority of OxyContin users would have become addicted to heroin one way or another.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.