MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Users of "hillbilly heroin" are switching to the real thing. The makers of OxyContin changed the drug to help prevent prescription pill abuse; it can no longer be crushed and inhaled for a quick high.
When Purdue Pharma changed the formula for OxyContin, it likely had no idea it would drive people to heroin. The change took place two years ago and deputies are now seeing the effects.
"Years ago you would be surprised to find a small amount of heroin, now today we're looking at pounds of heroin that's being found,” said Lt. Reggie Hubbard with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Division.
He says the OxyContin formula change is a playing a role in an explosion of heroin use.
The prescription painkiller takes hours for the active ingredient to be released. Before the modification, abusers found a way around it, by crushing a pill into a powder and inhaling it. Or they would mix the powder with water and inject it. Both gave users a quick high just like heroin.
“Now when you crush it you can't get that out that quickly, it still has that sustained release property,” explained pharmacist Rende Ginn.
The new pills are stamped with "OP", the old formula pills aren't. Abusers know the difference.
“When people see them they don’t like it. They say, ‘I don’t want these, I want the ones without the OP,’” Ginn said.
Former OxyContin abusers seeking heroin are ignoring several dangers.
“The frightening thing about that is, you went from a drug that was controlled by the manufacturers with a certain amount of substance, certain amount of ingredients to a street drug now that is unpredictable,” noted Lt. Hubbard.
That raises the risk of overdoses. If you think the switch to heroin is a fly by night trend, think again. Lt. Hubbard is just one of many in the war on drugs who believes we could see a continued spike in heroin use.