Generation Oxy

The drug has been around since the mid-1990s. But it was onetime Sacramento radio jock Rush Limbaugh who really introduced the country to a prescription drug named OxyContin. As we all learned in 2003, the king of conservative talk radio became addicted to the strong medication after originally having it prescribed for pain after back surgery.

Limbaugh admitted he’d become an addict and went through subsequent detox, recovery and a highly publicized return to radio. He’s now being investigated for possible “doctor shopping” for Oxy at the time of his addiction—i.e., obtaining overlapping prescriptions for painkillers from multiple physicians. It’s apparently a technique shared by many adult addicts.

But what’s more alarming than how adults get addicted is the fact that abuse of the drug seems increasingly to involve young adults—especially ones who live out in the suburbs. It doesn’t take teenagers and 20-somethings in search of a high too long to figure out that, once they find a supply of the pills, they can rub off Oxy’s 12-hour-release protective coating and then ingest or snort what remains to produce a heroin-like rush.

In this week’s cover story, “Jeremy’s pills,” writer Wes Sander gets up close with the Oxy story by following 24-year-old addict Jeremy Hale through detox and recovery at a Rancho Cordova facility. Like a lot of people his age, Jeremy first caught the Oxy bug in 2001 when his friends were getting high on a supply of pills a doctor had prescribed to somebody’s mother. Predictably, it wasn’t long before Jeremy felt his life had been taken over by the all-consuming need to feed a habit.

“Looking back, I can’t believe how sick I was,” he said.

Regardless of his ongoing legal battles, the man who made us aware of Oxy now believes he was one of the lucky ones. Limbaugh claims he hasn’t abused painkillers since his time in detox.

Let’s just hope that young people like Jeremy—now back home and trying to survive in a complicated world—can manage to do the same.