Oxy: The Hidden Epidemic

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Health-Medical Documentary hosted by Matthew Carney, published by ABC broadcasted as part of ABC Four Corners series in 2010 - English narration

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Image: Oxy-The-Hidden-Epidemic-Cover.jpg

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Oxy: The Hidden Epidemic

Reporter: Matthew Carney

Broadcast: 23/09/2010

This week on Four Corners, Oxy - the Hidden Epidemic - a story that reveals how the misuse of powerful prescription drugs is creating a new generation of addicts.

For much of the past three decades, authorities have waged war against the importation and sale of illegal drugs. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on law enforcement and drug rehabilitation programs. Now, reporter Matthew Carney reveals that while illegal drugs remain a major problem, many experts believe the widespread use and abuse of legally prescribed opioid-based drugs could create a new and devastating drug epidemic across the suburbs of Australia.

"It's the hidden heroin. It's the society heroin. You know, to have heroin in a pill." - Drug addict 

They are pure, they are legal and they are addictive. The drugs in question are opiate-based painkillers, prescribed by doctors to help chronic pain sufferers. For some time now, authorities have warned these drugs are turning up on the streets and are being bought and sold by addicts to satisfy their drug cravings.

But now there's another problem, with profound consequences for ordinary Australians. People who take these drugs for legitimate reasons are becoming addicted. Some have died, others have seen their lives destroyed.

Robbie M. was just 20 years old when a forklift crushed his leg in a work accident. He had three operations and was prescribed painkillers by his doctor. Just three years after the accident he was dead from an overdose involving prescription drugs. After his death it was revealed that in the last four weeks of his life he had obtained 2,000 pills.

Robbie's story might be extreme but it isn't unique.

Ruth was a busy working mum. She strained her back at work in 2006. The pain persisted and nothing seemed to help until her doctor prescribed her an opiate-based painkiller. Three years on and Ruth had become an addict not of her own making. The crunch came when she overdosed. Fortunately, Ruth received help and has been able to get her life back on track.

In the illicit markets prescription opioids are fast replacing heroin, cocaine and ice as the drug of choice. Oxycontin, Oxynorm and MSContin are some of the brand names but basically for street addicts they're like heroin in a pill. Bruce is in his 40s but looks much older. To feed his habit he began to 'doctor shop', going from one doctor to another asking for prescriptions of the same drug. Then, realising how easy it was to obtain legal drugs, he began selling them. In no time at all he was leading a team of people who shopped for drugs they could use and sell.

At the height of Bruce's addiction, he was even prepared to buy drugs from cancer sufferers. It's cases like his that explain the expansion of the illicit prescription drug market.

Over the past decade, the number of prescriptions written for these types of drugs has increased dramatically. Recent figures show doctors wrote 1.8 million taxpayer funded PBS scripts for them in just one year.

The question is, why are so many more prescriptions being written? In part, the answer can be found in an increased number of chronic pain sufferers. Now, a growing number of doctors and researchers are warning that unless we learn to treat chronic pain in different ways, that don't involve opiate-based drugs, we will have a major problem on our hands.

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[edit] Technical Specs

  • Duration: 44mn 49s
  • Filesize: 619 MiB
  • Format: Matroska
  • Video Codec: x264 core 93 r1542 5b86182
  • Video Bitrate: 1 800 Kbps
  • Video Resolution: 1008 x 568
  • Video Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Frames Per Second: 25.000
  • Bits-(Pixel*Frame) 0.126
  • Audio Codec: AAC
  • Audio Bitrate: 128 kb/s 48KHz
  • Audio Channels: 2
  • Audio language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Source: DVB-T
  • Capture: DVBViewer
  • Demuxer: ProjectX
  • Encoder: Avidemux 2.5.3
  • SubMux: MKVMerge

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