As part of SBS's Drug Season, the documentary Oxyana unveils the ravaging effects of oxycodone addiction.
Jeremy Cassar

29 Jul 2016 - 12:20 PM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2016 - 12:04 PM

As part of “Drug Season”, throughout August, SBS, SBS 2 and SBS On Demand will be offering a variety of documentaries like Grass Fed, California High and Crazy for Party Drugs as part of a closer look at the wide world of drug taking and making.

Oxyana, an award-winning film by Sean Dunne, hones in on the town of Oceana in West Virginia as a microcosm for the dangerous hold the prescription drug oxycodone has on many young lives.

But what is “oxy” and how has it taken a stranglehold of North America? Here’s an introduction…


Defining ‘oxy’

‘Oxy’ is an abbreviation for the stuff chemists call oxycodone hydrochloride. 'OxyContin' is the time-released version. While it has had undeniable benefits to people with chronic pain, its addictive qualities has caused a great deal of suffering.


It originated in Germany during the first World War

Technically, we could blame the Germans for this fiasco, as during WWI they believed they could create a semi-synthetic opioid that improved on anything the poppy offers, but it’s the United States that lead the modern oxy boom.

Though not until the 90s, as before then the stuff only ever popped up in hospitals. 1996 to be exact - the year that Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin pills —which were merely little nuggets of oxycodone made safe by their ‘controlled release’ function.  


Addicts easily find a way around the ‘controlled release’

Users quickly figured out ways to override the time-release mechanism, whether by scraping a pill free of a wax coating or relieving it of its binders. Any subsequent attempts to strengthen OxyContin’s shield were slight and quickly countered.

Some doctors kept their patients in the dark about the drug's potential for addiction

Up until fairly recently, supposedly trustworthy medical professionals pushed the painkiller on patients without any mention of its side effects. To these particular doctors, the potential to develop an all-consuming addiction to oxy abuse was nowhere near as important as hefty kickbacks from pharma manufacturers and distributors.


Tolerance levels tend to skyrocket

Those cuffed by oxy addiction know full well that recapturing the euphoria from that first pill is impossible unless you want to bring out the needle. The quick half-life of oxycodone results in quickly worsening cravings for larger quantities and tolerance levels without a ceiling.


Oxy-related death rates continue to rise

81 per cent of oxycodone users and abusers reside in the USA. For every doctor reluctant to prescribe, there’s another behind a revolving door signing script after script. In 2014, 18,893 Americans died from oxycodone use, as opposed to the 10,576 who lost their lives to heroin.

Purdue paid off one of the largest pharma settlements in history

You’d think a 600 million dollar fine for pushing a potentially fatal drug on the masses would serve as a warning for the future, but Purdue is still running strong, and any of the oxy-related lawsuits it faced was merely a blip in between deliveries of insurmountable profit.


Hitler was a fan

Numerous claims and reports reveal that the Führer liked his drugs, and we’re not talking a quick pre-rally spliff, we’re talking snuffing an early incarnation of meth, and receiving regular injections of oxycodone.


Jay and Silent Bob almost split permanently thanks to oxys

It's not just the poor who are afflicted by oxycodone addiction. Director Kevin Smith's real-life best buddy and many-time co-star Jason Mewes was such a slave to the stuff that Smith regularly saved his half-dead mate from irreversible disaster.

It’s not a threat to Australia… yet

Our closest relative to oxys is Endone, a potent pain med that’s relatively difficult to procure legally without quantifiable physical suffering. But on a street level, oxys in various incarnations are popping up all over the shop. It’s increasingly more common for a dealer to offer oxy stock that’s been illegally imported from overseas.