Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jun 2001
Source: Herald, The (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Daily Herald Co
Author: Vickie Chachere, Associated Press


TAMPA, Fla. -- 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 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 

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 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."

Used properly, oxycodone is released slowly into the body. But abusers of 
the drug grind the 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 his diabetes and a heart condition that was 
revealed in an autopsy.

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

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

Lillian Kaminer believes Lo, the pharmacy student, should have known the 
dangers of OxyContin. She wanted the boys 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. Four others were charged with manslaughter in the death 
of a 13-year-old Florida girl given OxyContin at a party.

"This is a drug that, if used properly, 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. But how could he have known?"
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