Unlike most “generations” which segregate based on a slice of the demographic, I’d say the OxyContin Generation started in the late 1990s, includes everybody from near — teens to senior citizens, includes all races, all parts of the country, and continues today. You might give it a different name today — especially since OxyContin was reformulated and made more difficult to abuse — but whether we rebrand it as the Vicodin generation, the oxycodone generation… it’s all the same.
Prior to the 1990s, pharmaceutical opioid abuse was a known problem, for sure, but the major opioid abuse epidemic in the United States involved heroin. For lots of reasons, both local to the United States (push for chronic pain enhancements, relaxation of state boards of medicine in their view of “overprescribing”) as well as geopolitical (believe it or not, the Taliban had a sharp role in reducing the world’s supply of opium/heroin), the drug of abuse pattern in the United States shifted quite dramatically from illegal opioids like heroin to sundry legal opioids like OxyContin. OxyContin took parts of the eastern United States by storm in the late 1990s, even earning the name Hillbilly Heroin because of its surge of popularity in Appalachia.
So, what are we left with now? An epidemic of pharmaceutical abuse that finds
- 2500 pre-teens/teens misusing an opioid for the first time every day
- more Americans die from drug overdosages than car accidents
- booming morbidity in emergency departments from pharmaceuticals
Here’s an article from the NY Times that looks at how the battle is being played out one patient at a time. I like this article, because it focusses on the group caught in the crossfire between an out — of — control drug epidemic and the vulnerable patient population it’s created.