Hydrocodone supplants OxyContin as the new “hillbilly heroin”

A few years ago, OxyContin was all over the news because of Rush Limbaugh’s much-publicized addiction — and also because its illicit use was so widespread in Appalachia that it was known as “hillbilly heroin.”

We’re not sure about Rush, but apparently the hillibillies have moved on — to hydrocodone. According to the AP:

As OxyContin came under scrutiny, doctors were more careful about how they prescribed it. Many switched to hydrocodone products, which were already popular but didn’t have the same stigma.

All 50 states saw increases in the distribution of hydrocodone between 2001 and 2005. But the trend was particularly significant in the South, where all of the top 10 states in terms of increased distribution are located, the DEA says. Four of the top five — Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama — include parts of Appalachia.

Authorities say hydrocodone is so popular in this region partly because it’s easy to acquire. Street drugs like heroin are harder to come by in sparsely populated rural areas. Prescription painkillers can be found at every pharmacy and pain clinic, as well as ordered over the Internet.

“When I started in this field, the primary client was involved with alcohol,” says David Bailey, a community resource specialist with the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center. “I wish it were still alcohol. Not that that’s not a very dangerous drug, but the addiction (to painkillers) seems to be much more intense, much more severe within a shorter period of time.”

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