Even with a thriving academic atmosphere such as UW-Madison’s, drug use has a presence on campus. In this series, The Badger Herald will examine the drug culture at UW. Today, we look at the use of OxyContin and the lengths some take to obtain the prescription painkiller. Tomorrow, we examine drugs commonly used in bars, such as cocaine.

A 34-year-old man was arrested Sunday for the attempted theft of the drug OxyContin from an East Side medical facility. This was the third attempted theft of the drug in Madison just this year.

OxyContin, produced by Purdue Pharma LP, is the strongest prescription painkiller on the market. It is a trade name product for the generic narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride, an opiate agonist. The drug provides pain relief by acting on opioid receptors in the spinal cord, brain and possibly in the tissues directly. When used properly, OxyContin is designed to provide 12 hours of relief for patients with bone pain or cancer or for those waiting to have surgery.

Recreational use of OxyContin has risen among young adults due to the effects of the time-release pill as it breaks down. When the drug is crushed, injected or snorted, the intense reaction is felt all at once and is similar to that of heroin.

Until 1999, OxyContin abusers were located primarily in eastern states such as Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. However, a rise in pharmacy robberies, prescription forgeries and street sales in Wisconsin have indicated that the drug’s popularity is moving west.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, the price of one 10-milligram tablet purchased with a prescription is $1.25, but on the street it may sell for $5 to $10. More recent estimates by the Milwaukee District office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration say the street value rose to $30 to $60 per pill.

Nate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, talked about the possibility of trying OxyContin.

“Oh heck yeah, I would,” he said. “People have friends that can find it. I wouldn’t pay too much for it, though.”

He said he prefers to stick to other lower-cost options with similar reactions.

“I’ve used Vicodin, Percoset and muscle relaxers,” he continued. “You take as many as you can get to get f*cked up and start flying. It’s like a real intensified drunkenness, and every now and then you might see things.”

UW junior Brett Rehm said he believes part of the blame for the increase in use of OxyContin can be placed on physicians.

“It seems like doctors prescribe things like Oxy without thinking,” Rehm said. “They went out of control.”

A high school football injury requiring two knee surgeries left Rehm on a steady dose of morphine and codeine to handle the pain.

“I’m a big guy,” Rehm said. “And when a big guy doesn’t need Oxy, I don’t see why anybody does. There seems to be other solutions available.”

Despite the trends, pharmacists will not take OxyContin off their shelves because of the benefits it provides to those in need. The long-lasting pill works quickly, so its intended users can function during the day and sleep at night. In order to equal the relief supplied by OxyContin, a person needs to consume large doses of aspirin, which could cause damage to the liver.

Roxicodone and Percoset, along with other painkillers on the market, last only four to five hours and may take an hour to begin working, meaning a daily routine is continually interrupted and a decent night of sleep becomes impossible.

Although pharmacists say taking it off the shelves is not an option, they do take precautions when dealing with OxyContin.

Because of the concern surrounding the drug, Madison-area pharmacists only spoke on conditions of anonymity to protect the pharmacy and avoid attracting attention.

“We have no official policy and no changes to normal screening,” said a Madison area pharmacist. “But we have to avoid using company names. We haven’t been robbed, but the potential is always there.”

Pharmacies in the Dane County area say they rely on each other to crack down on illegal users. If someone is caught falsifying prescriptions, all pharmacies must notify one another in a chain sequence, while physicians may also report anything suspicious. Additionally, a one-week waiting period may be required after the initial prescription is ordered.

“There are good reasons for keeping [OxyContin],” another pharmacist said. “Nothing else will take the pain away [as well]. It is a long-acting pill that is the most used out there and just happens to be getting a lot of press.”

He also said taking the proper steps makes incidents less likely.

“We have only had one situation where someone was at the counter with a false prescription,” he added. “Over at our [other] site, a lady was caught because she used different-colored pens when forging the prescription.”