"I never said I want to grow up to be a junkie, ever," says 22-year-old Troy Swett. But he did, and he now he is ashamed of it.
Like tens of thousands of people around the country, he breaks the law every day, abusing a powerful painkiller called OxyContin. "If I were to go without Oxys, I'd feel violently sick," he says. Harold Dow reports on Swett's struggle to free himself of addiction.
Seven years ago OxyContin didn't even exist. Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration says abuse of this legal drug is growing faster than any other prescription remedy in decades.
Purdue Pharma developed OxyContin to provide long-lasting pain relief. The drug contains a large quantity of narcotic, coupled with a special time-release agent to control the dosage – an innovation some call a miracle.
The problem started when people discovered they could defeat Oxycontin's time-release agent by cooking it off and injecting pure narcotic.
Troy's arms weren't always covered with track marks. "He was a sweetheart. I mean this boy is so caring and I think it still shows even now," says his mother, Kathy. He grew up in a stable home in Bangor, Maine, with his mother, who runs a fitness center, and his twin sister, Amanda.
He began experimenting with drugs as a teen-ager. In 1997, he discovered the OxyContin, and became addicted.
Scott Farnum runs the Narcotic Treatment Program at the Acadia Hospital in Bangor, where admissions have jumped nine-fold in the last five years.
"Experimenting with opioids is not like experimenting with marijuana or sniffing glue or having a few beers to see what that's like," he says. "It causes significant neurochemical and brain structural changes in people who abuse these drugs. Once they reach that point, it's very hard to pull back from that."
Farnum says the problem has exploded in places like Maine because in rural, working-class areas more people suffer work-related injuries. That means more pain prescriptions, and more potential for abuse.
And because OxyContin is federally approved, it doesn't carry the social stigma of illegal opiates like heroin.
"All I can think about is when I'm going to do them. How I'm going to get 'em, how I'm going to get money to get 'em," says Swett, who has a $300-a-day habit.
Last summer, he hit bottom, and told his mom that he was an addict. It was hard to tell her. Kathy agreed to send her son to California for a radical treatment called rapid detox. It promises to cure Troy without a painful withdrawal. The cost: $9,800, a "huge commitment," Kathy says.
The treatment center didn't want Troy going into withdrawal before he arrived. Troy was instructed to keep using OxyContin for the two weeks till he checked in. He usually takes 240 mg a day. His mother paid for his drugs during this time.
During the trip to California, Troy took more Oxy, to stave off withdrawal symptoms.
"He needs that drug. It makes my skin crawl, it doesn't make me feel good. Whatever I say isn't going to stop him," said his sister Amanda, who went with him to California.
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