New, "Tamper-Proof" Oxy Costs Less on the Street

By Jeff Deeney 11/18/11

Addicts who miss the easy-access old form of OxyContin chase the pills that are smuggled in from Canada instead.

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The new and old forms of Oxy Photo via

A new report on the black market price of OxyContin finds that the new, harder-to-abuse version of the pill costs less on the street, presumably because demand is lower. The older version of the pill came inside a rubberized coating—stamped with the letters "OC" plus the milligram dosage—that contained the pill's time release mechanism.  This time release coating was easily subverted, leaving behind a tiny football shaped chunk of pure oxycodone that could be crushed and snorted or injected. Getting the powder out of the pill was a simple two step process. You suck on the pill for a second and rub the protective coating off with a piece of tissue. Then crush and snort. Oxy's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, came under pressure to produce a tamper-proof pill after waves of overdoses swept the county in the early 2000s. Finally, in April 2010, Purdue got the FDA go-ahead to roll out their new formulation. The new pill—now stamped with the letters "OP"—turns into a chunky, gunky mess when messed with, so it's harder to abuse. But harder doesn't mean impossible: addicts have already found numerous ways to get around the new mechanism, including the use of microwaves and freezers. Despite what the FDA calls a limited benefit to such an imperfect solution to the Oxy abuse problem, the new pills do seem to have less of a market draw, costing roughly 25 cents less per milligram on the streets than the old formula. Users still craving the easy access of the familiar old formula have created new demand in the face of pill shortages for Oxy "OC," smuggled in from Canada.

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Jeff Deeney is a social worker, freelance writer and recovering addict in Philadelphia. He is a contributor to the Atlantic and has written for the Daily Beast, The Nation, and The Marshall Project. Follow Jeff on Twitter.

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