Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jun 2002
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Associated Press


PORTLAND -- The manufacturer of the potent painkiller OxyContin will fund a 
study on how prescription narcotics are abused and how they end up being 
diverted to Maine in the first place.

This summer, researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine who 
proposed the study will begin collecting data on the abuse and diversion of 
six types of opiates used in painkillers.

They include two used in products by Purdue Pharma: morphine and oxycodone, 
the active ingredient in OxyContin.

Some commend Purdue Pharma for trying to help Maine's health care and drug 
enforcement communities end the scourge of painkillers.

Others see it as a thinly veiled attempt by the Connecticut-based company 
to mend its image after negative press about OxyContin abuse.

"It's all about re-establishing their reputation," Portland Police Chief 
Michael Chitwood said. "My concern is it's more political and financial 
than about public safety." Chitwood said he did not oppose the study, but 
wondered what it could say that drug enforcement agents don't already know.

"We have a situation that shows people are dying, people are stealing, 
people are using the drug. It's a major problem," Chitwood said.

State surveys show that the number of people admitted to programs for 
treatment of addiction to prescription opiates such as OxyContin has risen 
24 percent from 652 in 2000 to 811 last year.

Kim Johnson, director of the state's Office of Substance Abuse, said she 
recognizes that colleagues are suspicious about Purdue Pharma's motives.

But she said she's excited about the study, the likes of which have never 
been attempted in the state.

More than 300 addicts from Portland and Washington County -- two of the 
areas hardest hit by the illegal use of prescription narcotics -- will be 
interviewed and asked how they got their drugs.

Authorities believe that in most cases the drugs are obtained through legal 
prescriptions and sold on the street. The drugs also are stolen from 
pharmacies and homes and smuggled across the Canadian border.

The cost of the study was not available, but Dr. J. David Haddox, Purdue 
Pharma's health policy director, said the company has devoted $5 million 
this year to fund the study and others like it.

Already under way are three national studies looking at prescription drug 
abuse as reported by groups ranging from pain specialists to directors of 
addiction treatment programs to police units.

A fourth study, similar to the one in Maine, will be launched to study the 
role of OxyContin in southwest Virginia through interviews with addicts, 
imprisoned drug dealers and physicians, Haddox said.

Lt. Mike Riggs, who runs drug enforcement at the Washington County 
Sheriff's Department, said the company may have its own interests in mind 
but he fully backs its efforts to help.

"Whatever means can be utilized to identify the problem is going to be 
beneficial," he said.
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