TAMWORTH’S streets are awash with a powerful prescription drug dubbed “hillbilly heroin” and police have linked its rise to a spate of recent crimes.
The painkiller Oxycontin, nicknamed “hillbilly heroin” because its effects in high doses mirror those of the illegal drug, has spawned a booming black market in Tamworth. The market is being fuelled by the ready availability of the drug, with police saying dealers – some legitimate pain sufferers – are “doctor shopping” for prescriptions.
The dealers then sell the tablets on the street for up to $50 each, meaning one packet can fetch more than $1000.
Acting Oxley local area commander Jeff Budd said tighter regulations needed to be put in place to prevent the illegal spread of the opiate.
“There is a significant trade in prescription medication in this community and a lot of it revolves around Oxycontin,” Acting Superintendent Budd said.
“We’ve seen numerous examples of targeted crime with prescription medication and it’s resulted in a number of assaults. It’s been increasing dramatically in the last five years as Oxycontin becomes the medicine of choice for doctors to issue. We know of offenders who go ‘doctor shopping’ for it and there seems to be no effective regulation to stop it.”
He would not be drawn on whether Thursday’s alleged armed hold-up of a Tamworth pharmacist was linked to the drug.
An Oxycontin addict, who was originally prescribed the drug for tooth pain last year and did not wish to be named, said the drug was selling on the black market for $1 per milligram.
“You can swallow them as tablets or dissolve them and shoot them up,” he said.
“I started using it as a painkiller, but it gives you a euphoric feeling when you take it and helps you sleep when you’re coming down.”
Lyn Gardner from Hunter New England Health District’s drug and alcohol unit said while most clients turned to the service for
marijuana and alcohol issues, Oxycontin use accounted for about one-in-25 presentations. She said those seeking treatment could do so by calling the service’s central intake number on 1300 660 059.