They're meant to be taken as prescribed pills and absorbed by the body gradually.
But OxyContin, Vicodin and similar prescription painkillers are increasingly being abused in the Lawrence area, police and substance-abuse counselors say - often by young people.
"One of the things they're doing now is taking these pills, crushing them and snorting them," said Lawrence Police Sgt. Tarik Khatib, head of the joint city-county drug unit. "You basically bypass the time release, and it's a much quicker onset. : My personal view is that it's just coming, and it's been underreported so far."
A national study released this spring by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America showed that more teens had tried a prescription painkiller to get high in 2004 than had tried Ecstasy, cocaine or LSD. Officials at DCCCA, a drug-treatment center at 3312 Clinton Parkway, said that they're seeing the trend here, even though they didn't have statistics on hand.
"We would never hear about OxyContin, we'd never hear about Vicodin for months at a time, and now every month we get people in here who are reporting some use," said Nancy Moses, DCCCA's treatment coordinator.
OxyContin and Vicodin are part of a family of opiate-based painkillers that includes methadone, codeine and morphine. They're commonly prescribed for conditions including injuries, arthritis, chronic back pain and cancer-related pain.
With continued use, they can lead to physical addiction.
Khatib's drug unit recently worked what he said is probably its first case involving OxyContin. After a series of pharmacy burglaries throughout the area starting in November 2004, police got a tip from the grandparents of a 23-year-old Lawrence man, who said they'd found hundreds of pills on him when he came to visit them in Arkansas for Thanksgiving.
¢ In 2003, conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh admits an addiction to OxyContin on his show, attributing it to severe back pain.
¢ In 2003, Jack Osbourne, son of rocker Ozzy Osbourne and star of MTV's "The Osbournes," enters rehab for an OxyContin addiction.
¢ In 1996, Brett Favre enters the NFL substance-abuse program voluntarily for addiction to painkillers, including Vicodin, prescribed to him for injuries.
Police eventually linked him and a 24-year-old friend to two burglaries at Orchards Drug, 1410 Kasold Drive, an attempted burglary at a Truecare pharmacy in Baldwin and a burglary at Cedar Creek Pharmacy in De Soto.
According to a report, the men admitted to both using and selling the stolen pills.
The 24-year-old, Ryan E. Rofkahr of Lawrence, was booked into the Douglas County Jail last week after being charged with eight counts total, including burglary, theft, possession of oxycodone (OxyContin) with intent to sell, and possession of methadone and heroin. District Court records show the younger man has yet to be charged.
Khatib said some people are ordering the drugs at online pharmacies or buying them on the street. Others might forge prescriptions or do what's known as "doctor shopping" - visiting a large number of doctors to get overlapping prescriptions.
Mark Smith, pharmacist at Orchards Drug, said he could think of only one case in the past month where someone had brought in a questionable prescription for the painkillers.
"I think most of that stuff is coming from mom and dad's medicine cabinet," he said.