Website Tracks Black-Market Prescription Drug Prices

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Ever wonder, "What's the street price of OxyContin in Nevada?"

No? Well, if you ever have, you're in luck. Turns out it's $2-5 for 5 milligrams of the narcotic, according to StreetRx.com. The newly launched site is an attempt to assemble and organize information about the price prescription drugs fetch on the black market. Some of the data comes from official government sources like the Drug Enforcement Agency, but users can add their own knowledge to the database, too.

It might seem unlikely that a site like this would take off. After all, what kind of drug user wants to submit this kind of information? It turns out there are plenty of smart shoppers out there, at least among those who buy marijuana. PriceofWeed.com gets dozens of submissions a day and is considered a good resource for basic information about how much an ounce goes for these days.

StreetRX is run by public health researchers who'd rather not be named. They're interested in this data because it could tell them important things about which prescription drugs are being abused. For example, pharmaceutical companies have been trying to develop "abuse-resistant" drug formulations. OxyContin was designed to provide pain relief over 12 hours, but off-label users realized they could crush it up and snort it for a faster, more intense high. So, an additive was put it in to try to disrupt that behavior. The abuse-resistant version of the drug was approved by the FDA last summer. How well will it work? A great test of its abuse-resistance would be to see if its street price is markedly lower than a standard OxyContin.

Though drug buyers discuss this type of price information n Internet forums, it's hard to analyze without the kind of standardized data structures that StreetRX provides.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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