Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jun 2001
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2001 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Vickie Chachere (Associated Press)


Matthew Kaminer was one week away from freshman year finals at the 
University of Florida when he had a few drinks, then popped an 
innocent-looking pill handed to him by a friend.

The next day, he was dead.

Kaminer was among the first wave of deaths linked to the potent
painkiller OxyContin. Today, two other young men go before a judge on
manslaughter charges in his death.

The synthetic morphine, a savior to those in intense pain, has become
a killer when abused. More than 120 people nationwide have overdosed
on the prescription drug.

``I know kids experiment with drugs, but this is something
different,'' said Matthew's mother, Lillian. ``This is like being
handed a loaded gun and not knowing what it is.''

Authorities nationwide are cracking down on OxyContin abuse, but while
hundreds have been charged with illegally prescribing or selling the
pills, authorities in Florida have taken the matter further by
pursuing manslaughter charges when users die.

In Kaminer's April 2000 death, Ying Che ``Dan'' Lo, a 19-year-old
pharmacy student, is accused of swiping a bottle from the drugstore
where he worked and giving pills to Naeem Diamond Lakhani, 19, who
allegedly gave one to Kaminer.

The two were not expected to fight the charges today. They face up to
15 years in prison.

``There is no way any of these kids had any idea of the potency
involved or that it could have resulted in anyone's death or it never
would have happened,'' said Ben Hutson, Lo's attorney.

OxyContin burst onto the national stage this spring with warnings from
law enforcement and public health officials about the deadly results
of misusing the synthetic morphine.

Last month, drug maker Purdue Pharma suspended shipments of its
largest dose, the 160-milligram tablet, and took steps to make people
aware of the dangers of the drug, also known by its generic name, oxycodone.

``This is equally dangerous to you as if you had put that big ol' ugly
word `heroin' on it,'' said Alachua County State Attorney William
Cervone, who is prosecuting the two students in Kaminer's death.

``If we would call these things poisons instead of drugs, some people
would get the idea.''

When used properly, oxycodone is released slowly into the system. But
abusers of the drug grind tablets into powder and snort or inject the
drug to produce feelings of euphoria.

In Kaminer's case, it wasn't clear whether the dose he received was
too large or if it exacerbated other health conditions: diabetes and a
heart condition, revealed in the autopsy.

Lo's attorney said his client is ``just a kid'' who is devastated by
Kaminer's death and hopes to spread word of OxyContin's dangers after
the criminal charges are resolved.

``The only thing people can do to gain anything positive out of this
is to make it a learning experience for everybody,'' Hutson said.

Lakhani's attorney did not return telephone calls seeking

Kaminer died in his sleep on at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house
after celebrating the Passover Seder with friends and going to a
birthday party.

At first, his fraternity brothers assumed Kaminer died from drinking
too much, including a glass of Seder wine.

An autopsy found little alcohol in Kaminer's bloodstream,

Lillian Kaminer believes Lo, the pharmacy student, should have known
the dangers of OxyContin. She wanted the youths prosecuted to send a
message to drug dealers.

The young men are not the first to be prosecuted. Last year, a Florida
doctor was charged with manslaughter in the deaths of four patients he
treated for pain. And four others were charged with manslaughter in
the death of a 13-year-old Florida girl given OxyContin at a party.

At a local bereavement support group, Lillian Kaminer has been joined
this year by two other mothers whose sons died from OxyContin.

They grieve side by side with parents whose children have died of
cancer and used OxyContin to lessen their pain.

``This is a drug that if it's used properly, it has a use and it's a
great benefit for people who have that kind of pain,'' Lillian Kaminer
said. ``It's being abused, people are becoming addicted to it, it's
out on the street. It's being stolen from pharmacies left and right.

``I am not saying my son was without fault, no one forced the pill
down his throat,'' she said. ``But how could he have known?''
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