OxyContin — The New Drug of Choice

OxyContin, a legally prescribed painkiller, is the newest narcotic to invade small towns and big cities alike.

Armed robbers from Bangor, Maine to Hazard, Ky. are storming into pharmacies, pulling out guns and saying: "Give me all your OxyContin."

"If it hasn't hit your town or city, you need to be on the look-out for it," Chief Eric Montgomery of the Pulaski, Va. Police Dept. said.

"OxyContin is now the number one drug of choice in our town," he said.

Many of the robbers are under 18, looking to sell the pills for $80 a piece on the illegal market. One surveillance video from a pharmacy in Lynfield, Mass. recorded a teenager making off with more than 1,000 tablets of OxyContin — a near fortune with an estimated street value of more than $100,000.   

"It's just lucky that one of these drug users that's holding up the pharmacies hasn't been spooked and shot one or more people," said Massachusetts state Sen. James Jajuga, D-Methuen.

So what makes OxyContin so irresistible?

Addicts say it gives them the same high as heroin — only better.

"I found that OxyContin is more addictive than heroin because, psychologically you know it's safer and physically, it feels the same," one OxyContin addict, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Abusers also say they prefer Oxycontin to some illegal drugs because they can gauge their dosages, which are stamped right on the pills.

OxyContin is a long-lasting version of oxycodone, a narcotic considered important therapy for many patients suffering long-term, moderate to severe pain from cancer or other illnesses.When swallowed whole, the tablet provides 12 hours of pain relief.

"OxyContin made me able to live again," prescription user Kenny O'Rourke said. "I would take one or two in the morning, and I could function all day."

But if chewed, snorted or injected, OxyContin produces a quick, and potentially lethal, high that hits the bloodstream like a tidal wave. There have been hundreds of OxyContin overdoses just this year.

Kenny O'Rourke is legitimately prescribed OxyContin for colon cancer. But with the spate of recent robberies, many stores will no longer stock the drug. 

"All I know is, right now I'm suffering, because there's people out there who don't want to give it or are afraid to give it," O'Rourke said.  
The drug's manufacturer Perdu Pharma says it's taking steps to keep OxyContin available for cancer patients, and out of the hands of abusers.

"Patients will tell you it gives them their life back," Pamela Bennett, a nurse from Perdu Pharma, said. "It's a miracle drug."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Alisyn Camerota, an unrepentant '80s band groupie, is co-host of "America's News HQ," airing at (weekdays 1-2PM/ET on the Fox News Channel). She joined the network in 1998 as a Boston-based correspondent. Previously, Camerota served as co-host of "FOX & Friends Weekend."