Pubdate: Fri, 09 Nov 2001
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2001 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Marc Schogol, Inquirer Staff Writer


The manufacturer of OxyContin, the increasingly abused and potentially 
deadly painkiller, is launching a radio-advertising campaign in 
Philadelphia and three other localities to discourage teenagers from 
illegally using prescription drugs.

Without citing specific figures, Purdue Pharma, based in Stamford, Conn., 
said it targeted Philadelphia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Charleston, W.Va.; and 
Palm Beach County, Fla.; because of their high rate of prescription-drug abuse.

The new radio ads, part of a $1 million drug-education campaign called 
"Painfully Obvious," do not mention OxyContin or any other drug by name. 
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has encouraged Purdue Pharma to 
actively educate legitimate patients and the public about the potential 
dangers of such drugs.

Just last week, DEA reported for the first time that OxyContin played a 
"verified" role in 110 deaths throughout the country from January 2000 
until last month. The agency's review of medical-examiner data in 30 states 
also found that OxyContin is suspected of playing a role in 172 additional 

Purdue Pharma spokeswoman Pamela Bennett said yesterday that Philadelphia 
and the other localities were chosen for a number of reasons.

"These cities have problems with prescription-drug abuse that's been 
reported in the media. . . . We want to use these four test markets to see 
if the media campaign can succeed where prescription-drug abuse is a 
problem or an issue."

DEA data, she said, show that OxyContin "is not the only prescription drug 
abused and not even the most abused."

Nearly 40 overdose deaths in the Philadelphia region have been attributed 
in part to oxycodone, the principal ingredient in OxyContin, so far this 
year, according to area coroners' reports. The drug has been identified as 
the direct cause of 11 recent deaths in the region.

At least six deaths were in the Fishtown, Port Richmond and Kensington 
sections of Philadelphia, where investigators say a wave of OxyContin abuse 
began in the summer of 2000. A Bensalem, Bucks County physician, Richard 
Paolino, is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 26 on multiple charges of 
practicing medicine without a valid medical license and insurance fraud. 
Investigators have not charged him with causing any deaths; they have 
described him as the primary source of OxyContin abused in those river 

Narcotics officials locally and nationwide say OxyContin abuse is quickly 
rising, popular among drug abusers because of the heroinlike high it gives 
when tablets are broken or crushed, snorted or injected.

Florida authorities say Palm Beach County led the state with 54 overdose 
deaths involving oxycodone, up from 35 in the previous six months.

The ads will begin airing on Monday and continue for a month, on WIOQ-FM 
(102.1) and WPHI-FM (103.9) - both of which have the heavy age 9 to 18 
demographics Purdue Pharma hopes to reach.

There also will be promotions, giveaways and other features that Purdue 
Pharma hopes will be attention-getters.

"In the Philadelphia market, we're going to have 'Brain Bugs' driving 
around town - Volkswagen Beetles that have the 'Painfully Obvious' logo on 
it," Bennett said.

"You need to talk to kids in their own language. . . . Kids aren't stupid, 
they can think for themselves, but they need guidance."

Besides the radio ads, Purdue Pharma has created a 
Web site, with information that teenagers, parents and educators nationwide 
can read and download. No such material previously was available, Bennett said.

The company said the "Painfully Obvious" campaign, which could be expanded 
nationwide, is part of a 10-point program formulated earlier this year - a 
time when both OxyContin deaths and criticism of Purdue Pharma from 
government and law enforcement officials were mounting.

The company pulled its strongest OxyContin - 160-milligram tablets - off 
the market earlier this year and began issuing tamper-proof prescription 
pads to doctors.

OxyContin, a 12-hour time-release painkiller introduced in 1996, has grown 
in popularity with doctors and is the nation's 18th-most-prescribed drug, 
according to U.S. Rep. Jim Greenwood, a Bucks County Republican whose 
district includes Bensalem. OxyContin sales from May 2000 to May 2001 
totaled more than $1.2 billion, he said.

Inspector Jerry Daley of the Philadelphia police Narcotics Division said 
yesterday that "any kind of public-education campaign about the dangers of 
abusing prescription drugs is a good thing."

But, he said, "I don't know if it will have an impact on those currently 
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