Pubdate: Sun, 24 Mar 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson, crime correspondent, The Observer
Bookmark: (Oxycontin)


A lethal drug dubbed 'hillbilly heroin' that has been responsible for 
hundreds of deaths in America has surfaced in Britain, prompting fears 
among police, customs officers and drug workers that it could give rise to 
a whole new generation of addicts.

The illegal use of Oxycodone, a powerful painkiller only available on 
prescription and normally dispensed only to the terminally ill, is 
spreading rapidly across parts of the US, leaving devastated communities in 
its wake.

Experts say that because the drug is more potent and more addictive than 
heroin, the potential for misuse is almost limitless. The small white 
tablets can be swallowed whole, crushed and snorted or mixed with water and 
injected. Each tablet costs UKP5 to UKP20 depending on its strength. The 
most expensive are at least 10 times more powerful than anything else on 
the market.

In America, where it is sold under the brand name OxyContin, the drug has 
been linked to at least 300 deaths involving non-medical use in the past 
two years.

Last week the first British victim was named as Samantha Jenkinson, a 
pretty 18-year-old from Hull who dreamt of becoming a model. Soon after she 
had paid for her first portfolio of professional pictures, she joined a few 
friends for a night out on the town. They began drinking wine and beer and 
smoking cannabis before going to a party in the west of the city.

A variety of pills were doing the rounds and at some point Samantha 
swallowed up to seven Oxycodone. Within half an hour she had passed out and 
her friends lay her down on a mattress to sleep it off. When they couldn't 
wake her the following morning they called 999. Paramedics arrived and told 
them their friend had been dead for several hours.

Geoff Ogden of the Hull and East Riding Drug Action Team said: 'This is the 
first time we have come across the street use of this particular drug and 
it is a worrying development. We have asked the police to make inquiries 
about the source of the tablets. The manufacturers are also deeply 
concerned. and will be meeting with me in the near future. We all want to 
find out whether this was an isolated case or part of a larger batch.'

Essentially a synthetic form of morphine, OxyContin is popular because it 
contains more of the active ingredient than similar products on the market. 
The tablets are formulated so that the drug is released over a number of hours.

The idea was that patients would need only two tablets a day rather than 
six or seven as is the case with other painkillers. However, by crushing 
the tablets it is possible to get the full hit of the drug in one go. Like 
other opiates, the drug is highly addictive and has led to an increase in 
petty crime. In parts of the Appalachian valley in the US, 80 per cent of 
crime is believed to be OxyContin-related.

In a recent report, America's drug tsar John Walters found that while the 
price and purity of drugs such as heroin and cocaine had remained stable in 
recent months, the abuse of OxyContin had risen rapidly.

'We are now seeing OxyContin abuse breaking out in new areas and spreading 
across economic, ethnic and regional lines. It has moved from being abused 
in mostly rural areas to more metropolitan areas. It is a problem for all 
of us to take seriously.'

In addition to Hull, there have been reports of the use of OxyContin in 
Manchester and Ireland. It is growing in popularity in Dublin and many 
pharmacists in the city are refusing to stock it for fear they may become 
the target of robberies by both addicts and dealers.

The abuse of prescription drugs is growing among teenagers who use them to 
enhance the effects of alcohol. Although most are listed as Class A 
products, teenagers believe they are safer than street drugs.

'Samantha was opposed to drugs such as heroin and ecstasy,' said her 
mother, Elaine. 'I don't know where she could have got the Oxycodone from 
and what would have made her take it. We have so many unanswered questions 
and it looks like we may never know the truth. It's hard enough to move on 
- - this makes it even harder.
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