Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jul 2002
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


Thanks to the efforts of medical and law enforcement officials in 
Washington County, drug abusers are finding it more difficult to obtain 
OxyContin, the prescription painkiller that has plagued impoverished 
eastern Maine since shortly after the drug's introduction in 1996.

Legislators have toughened smuggling laws to help reduce the flow of 
narcotics from Canada. Police are cracking down on dealers. Doctors and 
pharmacists are more careful with prescriptions and wisely are exploring 
other strategies to combat chronic pain, such as physical therapy, yoga and 
treatment of underlying depression.

As the supply of OxyContin dwindles and the price for a daily fix rises to 
$300, addicts are faced with a number of choices to support their habits. 
Some have turned to burglary or prostitution for their drug money. 
Increasingly, others have taken the dangerous path of heroin, a cheaper but 
more lethal alternative to OxyContin.

"It's beginning to be seen that there's real potential for heroin abuse to 
take off," said James Cameron, Maine's assistant attorney general and 
coordinator of the state's drug prosecutors, about the drug problem in 
Washington County.

At $25 a day, heroin is more affordable. It delivers a similar sense of 
euphoria. It also carries greater risk of overdose. That is why the drug 
abuse in Maine's poorest regions as well as in its urban centers must be 
addressed as a societal as well as a criminal problem, from the preventive 
as well as the prosecutorial end.

OxyContin has spawned a population of addicts who need rehabilitation. 
Restricting the drug's availability is part of the solution, but effective 
treatment is necessary as well. Without treatment, addicts simply will 
switch to drugs that are cheaper and easier to obtain.
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