If you have kids between the ages of 14 and 25, this is a must read! While this article was written to educate law enforcement officials about the emerging OxyContin epidemic in Southern California and the symptoms of individuals, specifically teenagers and young adults, abusing OxyContin, parents will find it just as informative.


In May 2008, detectives from the South East Narcotics Team (SENT) saw a rise in the abuse of Oxycodone, with arrests for possession and sale of OxyContin in Poway and Santee increasing significantly. SENT Detectives responsible for conducting follow-up investigations related to these arrests immediately recognized OxyContin use as a growing trend among teenagers and young adults.

In July 2008, SENT detectives began coordinating investigative efforts with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Integrated Narcotics Task Force (NTF). Since then, detectives and agents have arrested over 20 individuals on charges ranging from simple possession of OxyContin, possession for sale of OxyContin, and possession of heroin. The majority of these arrests were in Poway, Santee, and Ramona. In September, the District Attorney’s Office put together a task force with components from the DEA, NTF, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies. The task force is currently gathering intelligence and working on long-term solutions to address this problem.

Legitimate Uses for Oxycodone
Oxycodone is an opiate that is prescribed for moderate to high pain relief associated with severe injuries, bursitis, dislocation, fractures, neuralgia, arthritis, lower back, and cancer pain. It is also used for postoperative pain and pain relief following childbirth. As with most opioids, Oxycodone is highly addictive and has a high potential for abuse, thus it is classified as a schedule II Narcotic. Most individuals who abuse Oxycodone seek to gain euphoric effects, mitigate pain, and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, and Tylox are other trade names for Oxycodone products. OxyContin is prescribed in pill form to be taken orally, allowing the controlled release of Oxycodone over a 12-hour period, making it the longest lasting pain reliever on the market. While the dose prescribed by physicians varies for each patient, the typical OxyContin dose ranges from 10mg to 80mg, taken two to four times per day. Patients using shorter acting Oxycodone products, such as Percocet, may need to take the product every four to six hours.

Most abusers interviewed by SENT detectives said they have tried Vicodin and/or Xanax, which “just makes them chill” or “relaxes them.” Abusers say the pills help them escape the pressures of school, nagging parents, nagging teachers, household chores, and other common adolescent stressors. Abusers believe by “popping” four or five Vicodin or chewing one or two Vicodin, all of their problems are solved for a few hours. One OxyContin abuser told detectives that “as a kid you start chewing a few Vicodin and the next thing you know you’re taking heroin.”

While conducting OxyContin investigations in these areas, detectives found one common theme: “Lots of people, are selling lots of Oxy, to lots of kids.”

Teenagers and young adults between the ages of 17 and 25 are buying OxyContin wherever they can get it and paying between $50 and $80 per pill. During interviews with numerous young adults, detectives quickly become educated with the increasing dangers of OxyContin abuse. 

The Story of “Jay” & How OxyContin is Abused
To show the impact of OxyContin abuse by teenagers and young adults in San Diego County, I will profile one individual. But make no mistake about it, this one kid represents the story of thousands of others around our county, and for the first time in my 19 years as a cop I’m scared for my kids and yours!

Jay, whose name has been changed to hide his true identity, is 18 years old and is facing a possible prison term for seven residential burglaries—the seven he admitted to in court! Off the record, Jay admitted to over forty residential burglaries and an unlimited number of vehicle burglaries. He comes from a middle to upper class family and has a younger sister. His parents divorced when he was about 16 years old; however, both parents are still active in Jay’s life and get along well with each other. Coincidentally, like a lot of these cases, one of Jay’s parents is a member of the San Diego law enforcement community.

When Jay was about 16 years old, he began experimenting with marijuana, which he continued to use off and on until his arrest in late 2008. Like at most schools in San Diego County, marijuana and other drugs were very prevalent. It wasn’t long before Jay started using cocaine, which he only used for about a month, because he claims he didn’t really care for it. He also began experimenting with mushrooms, ecstasy, and LSD, but still wasn’t getting the desired high. To this day, Jay is not really sure what effect he sought from those drugs.

Soon enough, Jay was introduced to prescription medications, such as Vicodin, Xanax, and Percocet, which are commonly found in medicine cabinets. When he was 17 years old, he was introduced to OxyContin. He was taught to grind up one 80mg pill and snort a quarter of it. When describing the effects, Jay said, “This was what I was looking for.”

For some users, OxyContin relaxes the user to a vegetative type state. Soon after he first started using OxyContin, Jay began snorting an entire pill at a time. Within a month he began smoking pills, which is the most common method of use among OxyContin abusers. He started by smoking a quarter of a pill. After removing the coating, the pill is placed on a strip of aluminum foil, and then a lighter is used to heat the bottom of the foil. When the pill begins to melt, it slides down the foil leaving a black trail or “skid” mark. The fumes are inhaled. Users slide the pill back and forth, inhaling the fumes until it’s gone. Users claim when smoking the OxyContin, or Oxy, “It hits you much quicker.”

Smoking or snorting OxyContin causes the drug to enter the body extremely fast. Within ten minutes, the effects are felt and last three to four hours. Since the pill is not being taken in the prescribed manner, the Oxycodone isn’t being introduced into the body slowly, instead being introduced all at once. Within a short period of time Jay developed a high tolerance and was smoking 15 to 20 pills a week, becoming very addicted. In his own words, he said, “I can’t believe it, after one time I was hooked.”

To support his $750 a week habit, he began stealing from his parents and then others. Even though Jay knew he might get caught, he couldn’t stop, You see, Jay didn’t just want to get high, he needed to! Like a heroin user, he could only go two days without using Oxy before he began to get withdrawal symptoms and get sick. His symptoms worsened until he ingested more Oxy. Some OxyContin abusers have admitted they can only go twelve hours before getting sick. Until they get the Oxy, users will often resort to Vicodin or Xanax, which cost about $2 to $5 on the street. Users also try Suboxine, or Subs, an anti-drug to curb their appetite for OxyContin.

For many the story stops here, and most of the people we talk with will continue to smoke it until they get legitimate help, such as long-term rehabilitation. For Jay, and increasingly more abusers we are talking with, a higher tolerance develops and smoking OxyContin pills isn’t enough to get the desired high. After several months of smoking OxyContin, Jay started injecting a quarter pill. He described injecting OxyContin as “the best yet.” He continued injecting Oxy until his arrest in September 2008. Jay also started using heroin, since it was cheaper than OxyContin and has similar effects. However, he preferred OxyContin and switched back.

Paraphernalia & Signs of Abuse
Most OxyContin abusers are often found in possession of foil in their bedrooms, cars, and even purses. They will often save the used foil with the “skid” marks (burnt OxyContin residue) on them so they can “re-hit” or smoke off the residue if they are unable to purchase additional OxyContin. It’s also common for OxyContin abusers to have multiple lighters in their possession, which they use to burn the Oxy. Some other common paraphernalia found on OxyContin abusers includes hose clamps, which act as a grinder to crush the pill into a fine powder, or a dollar bill with the pill folded inside to be crushed with a hard instrument like a cigarette lighter.

Commonly, OxyContin abusers remove the pill’s green coating prior to ingestion. Abusers will put the pill in their mouth to wet it, and then wipe the green coating off with the inside of their shirt or socks. This will leave green marks on their clothing until washed.

Text messages between friends often discuss the prescription drugs using slang. Some of the commonly used terms include: Norcos or Watsons (Vicodin); Z-Bars, bars, or Zannies (Xanax); Perks (Percocet); OC, Ox, 80s, or Beans (OxyContin).

Transition from OxyContin Abuse to Heroin Abuse
Many OxyContin abusers will try heroin at some point. Once the abuser gets over the fear of using needles, heroin becomes the cheaper, more preferred drug. Since heroin costs approximately $50 per gram, it is much cheaper than OxyContin. Once abusers try heroin, some continue to use it and others switch back to OxyContin. Until recently, the abuse of heroin in Poway, Santee, and Ramona was low as was the abuse of heroin by Caucasians.


Where do OxyContin users get the drug?
OxyContin is only manufactured in the U.S. and Canada. However, investigators are seeing teenagers and young adults going into Mexico, purchasing OxyContin and bringing it back across the border. Also dirty doctors, use of false prescriptions (scripts), or doctor shopping all play a significant part.

What are the signs and symptoms of someone under the influence of OxyContin?
Like heroin, OxyContin is an opiate and will give abusers a high similar to high grade heroin, but with worse consequences. The initial rush is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the extremities, abusers usually will be drowsy for several hours, and experience a sense of euphoria and relaxation. Mental function is clouded by the effect on the central nervous system, cardiac and respiratory functions slow, and speech may be slurred. These symptoms may be accompanied with nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.

What are the symptoms of OxyContin withdrawal?
OxyContin withdrawal is similar to heroin withdrawal in that it is almost impossible to go through alone. Withdrawal symptoms of OxyContin are worse than heroin and last longer. Professional help from a drug rehabilitation center is the best and safest way to do this. Unfortunately, there is no known “painless” method for OxyContin withdrawal.

OxyContin withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:
perpetually being tired
hot/cold sweats
heart palpitations
joints and muscles in constant pain
uncontrollable coughing
watery eyes
excessive yawning

What should I look for if I suspect my child is using OxyContin?
First and foremost, a change in behavior is common. Abusers will often lose interest in things that used to be very important to them. This may include school, sports, church, and maybe something as simple as family dinners. Physical indicators may include weight loss, poor complexion or hygiene, and lack of energy. At some point money will become an issue. Typically, abusers will begin stealing money or household items in order to pawn or trade them for money. We’ve seen kids pull money from their parents by telling them they need tires for their car, money for a school event, etc.

Text messaging is also very common, and for one reason or another, these kids save their messages. Look for slang terms such as Norcos, Watsons, Beans, 80’s, Bars, Z-Bars, etc. Or maybe something as simple as, “You got any of those? I need one.” As for paraphernalia, look for rolls of aluminum foil is a big one, also lighters, straws, rolled up dollar bills, syringes, and spoons that are burnt on one side. ?

For questions or comments regarding this article, please contact Det. Dave Ross, San Diego Sheriff’s Departments South East Narcotics Team (619) 401-8123.