OXYCODONE, colloquially known as “hillbilly heroin”, is said to be one of the drugs that led to the life-threatening overdose of South Sydney.
OXYCODONE, colloquially known as “hillbilly heroin”, is said to be one of the drugs that led to the life-threatening overdose of South Sydney players Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray.
Lee said the situation for Gray, in particular, had been dire.
Officially known as oxycodone, the depressant drug is prescribed by doctors to manage acute, chronic and cancer-related pain. The effects are similar to morphine and are so strong it’s earned the nickname “hillbilly heroin”
“Some people might do it to counteract the drowsiness of the sedatives but keep the more euphoric effects,” said Dr Frei. While the “unpredictable practice” might be common, when it goes horribly wrong, the overuse of prescription sedatives can cause people to collapse and go into a coma. When people are mixing drugs in this fashion, they are often able to take “higher than usual doses of sedatives,” he said.
According to a UNSW study on illicit drug trends between 2001 and 2013, more Australians are taking prescription drugs in non medical ways such as smoking or injecting them. The report indicated a 17 per cent rise in the practice of injecting oxycodone since 2005.
He delivered a keynote speech at an event in Perth recently in which he highlighted the need to tackle the public perception of such drugs and a more comprehensive approach to controlling misuse.
South Sydney players Aaron Gray and Dylan Walker are in a stable condition. Source: Instagram.
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“I was playing for Perth and I had several knee operations,” Geyer said. “After every operation I would be prescribed Panadeine Forte.
ScriptWise spokesman and AMA council of general practice in Western Australia Dr Steve Wilson told the ABC prescription drug misuse was “a bigger issue even than ice”
While effective systems exist in states such as Tasmania and South Australia, a comprehensive federal response has been slow to come.
Rabbitohs player Dylan Walker is recovering at St Vincent’s Hospital.
Dr Frei said the misuse of prescription drugs was a cultural issue and one borne out of a fundamental misunderstanding.
“It was a very serious matter. If circumstances had been different, if there hadn’t been another person at the unit we might have been talking about a totally different event today,” Lee told Sky Sports Radio on Wednesday.
“We’re no longer happy just to grow old,” he said.
“The abuse of this is widespread in rugby league. I believe it’s widespread in sport.”
NRL greats Matthew Johns and Mark Geyer warned painkiller abuse was rife and said it was an epidemic in the NRL.
Abuse of painkiller drug oxycodone has medical professionals worried. Source: News Corp Australia.
“We need to bear in mind that in terms of number and burden, pharmaceuticals are right up there,” Dr Frei said.
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IS IT AN EPIDEMIC?
Dr Frei referred to mechanical problems as the typical “aches and pains of old age” which these drugs are increasingly being prescribed for, as opposed to cancer-related pain.
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Dr Frei has spent more than 15 years working in the field of drugs and alcohol addiction and said: “When you dig deep into coroner reports (of those who have overdosed) quite often you see patients have been doctor shopping.”
WHAT IS HILLBILLY HEROIN? WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?
Energy drinks were found at Gray’s unit, The Daily egraph reported. Walker’s sister said her brother had taken oxycodone and Tramadol.
He’s not the only one to make the disconcerting declaration. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) called prescription drug abuse a “national emergency”
HOW HAS IT BECOME SO PREVALENT?
Kim Ledger, the father of Australian actor Heath, is also a spokesman for ScriptWise following his son’s death from a prescription drug overdose in 2008.
Bags of oxycodone found in a police raid on Lynne Denise Wood's home in Young, NSW, in 2008. She was the first person to be charged in the state over the large-scale supply of the prescription drug. Source: Supplied.
Countless actors including the Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley have called for greater measures to combat doctor shopping to ensure Australians aren’t abusing and dangerously mixing controlled drugs.
Some people misuse oxycodone to become intoxicated, which can result in serious side effects including chest pain or discomfort, extreme drowsiness and loss of consciousness, no muscle tone or movement and a slow or irregular heartbeat.
“Both the players are very alert. They’re communicating with medical staff and with their families.”
Dr Frei said due to limited research it is “not exactly clear what the implications are for mixing these substances” but the effects can range from benign to very negligent.
NRL: South Sydney duo Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray's condition has improved overnight at St Vincent's Hospital where they remain in Intensive Care.
“It’s no longer a question of whether it’s a problem. It’s well entrenched now... We know that people are dying from this,” says Dr Matthew Frei, Clinical Director at Melbourne’s Eastern Health.
It’s not just overuse and mixing with illicit and other prescription drugs that is leading to overdoses. With increased supply comes an increase in black market trade.
“After a while the doctor said, ‘Mate, you don’t need them anymore,’ but I was still chasing that feeling.”
It can become a real issue when users begin mixing sedative prescription drugs with stimulants such as caffeine-based energy drinks or illicit drugs such as cocaine.
Former league star Mark Geyer said he was hooked on prescription drugs. Source: News Corp Australia.
‘THESE DAYS IT’S ABSOLUY RIFE’
With the national spotlight on the impact of methamphetamine on Australian communities, medical professionals are worried awareness around prescription drug misuse has been displaced from the public conscience.
“They’ve gone from critical to stable and now I can report that their condition is even better, it’s good.
Both players had been prescribed painkillers following post-season surgery last week, and were found vomiting by a mutual friend at Gray’s Sydney apartment in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Police and the NRL were awaiting the results of a toxicology report following the incident.
“Just because it’s a commercial product doesn’t mean it’s inherently safe,” Frei said.
It’s a statement that is reflected in the recent figures in Victoria, which found prescription drugs were involved in 82 per cent of the 384 overdose deaths investigated by the Victorian coroner’s court in 2014.
“Our horse has bolted,” Dr Frei said, referring to the prevalence of opiate-based prescription drugs in Australia.
It’s a problem, he says, that’s spiralling out of control.
Former NSW and Kangaroos representative Geyer admitted he was addicted to painkillers in the mid-1990s.
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“I suspect it’s a much greater problem in magnitude.”
The most recent data shows a 180 per cent increase in oxycodone prescriptions from 2002 to 2009.
He believes Australian consumers have a growing expectation of a panacea in a pill meaning “more people are taking sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs and so on” without understanding the full dangers.
He said some doctors are “absoluy” trigger happy when it comes to prescribing such drugs to address mechanical discomforts.
“These days, many players, not just some, take prescription drugs for kicks,” Johns said on Triple M’s The Grill Team. “Ten years ago it was a bit of a problem, these days it’s absoluy rife.
The two men have made a steady recovery since being hospitalised on Tuesday in a serious condition, with Rabbitohs chief executive John Lee saying the players were now free of medical equipment that was supporting them.
The Rabbitohs duo were then rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital in a critical state.