Pubdate: Wed, 03 Apr 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co.
Author: Stump Martin
Bookmark: (Oxycontin)


KENSINGTON, Ga. -- Skip Arnold says he's upset he can't get the needed 
dosage of OxyContin to help his pain because of those who are abusing the 
prescription drug.

Mr. Arnold said OxyContin is the only medicine that reduces the severe pain 
he suffers daily from a chronic spinal condition.

But the powerful narcotic painkiller, dubbed "hillbilly heroin" by law 
enforcement agencies, has been criticized as being too easy to obtain and 
abuse. Mr. Arnold said new rules to prevent abuse are keeping him from 
getting the amount he needs.

"My body feels like it is on fire from the nerve damage and leaves me in 
tears," he said. "I've told my doctor that if she ever doubted me, she 
could call and I would bring my pill bottle and let her count the pills. 
I'm scared to death to take it wrong, and I don't take it before it's time. 
I have to suck it up until it's time for the next pill."

Mr. Arnold said his prescription calls for 200 milligrams of the drugs 
three times a day. Starting in January, Georgia Medicaid imposed new 
limits, and now his thrice-daily dose is only 120 milligrams.

"The OxyContin helps me to get out and do things I need to do and have a 
better quality of life," he said. "But my body has built up a tolerance to 
the other painkillers I was taking."

Andy Boisseau is with the Department of Community Health, the agency that 
administers Medicaid in Georgia.

He said the department decided to require a doctor's approval for OxyContin 
because of the widespread abuse of the drug. He said the quantity of 
tablets may be restricted.

Flintstone Pharmacy pharmacist Jinna Brown said the paperwork for prior 
approval is tedious and time-consuming.

She said the amount prescribed to Mr. Arnold is appropriate.

"The dosages for some people are ridiculous," she said. "He (Mr. Arnold) 
takes the medicine and walks around and functions, and for him that's his 
normal dose. For me it would be too much."

Ms. Brown said the pharmacy and Mr. Arnold's doctor are both working to get 
his problem resolved. Mr. Boisseau said he would check into Mr. Arnold's 
case and see if he could help, too.

North Georgia pharmacist Chuck Gass said OxyContin is a "big problem" in 

"It is getting to be a pretty popular drug for extensive pain," he said. 
"But it's pretty scary stuff if it's crushed up and used."

Mr. Gass said the pills are designed to last 12 hours, but when it's 
crushed and ingested, the user gets an immediate high, and it can cause 
death. He said some people who get prescriptions are selling the drug.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP says it supports measures that would more 
closely track patients seeking multiple prescriptions, and says it is 
developing an abuse-resistant painkiller. OxyContin has been on the market 
since 1996, and the manufacturer reported 6 million prescriptions written 
for it in 2000.

Ben Scott, resident agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement 
Administration office in Chattanooga, said there have been many cases of 
OxyContin abuse in Northwest Georgia. The Rome, Ga., and Chattanooga DEA 
offices both work cases in Northwest Georgia, he said

"There's some I'm aware of in Chattanooga, but not to those levels," Mr. 
Scott said. "OxyContin abuse is not as popular as it is other places, like 
North Carolina and Kentucky."

OxyContin abuse was first reported in Appalachia, where users were crushing 
the pill, then snorting or injecting it. The DEA reported the painkiller 
has been a probable factor in more than 300 overdose deaths since January 2000.

Chris Hill, commander of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task 
Force, said a 15-year-old died last summer in Walker County from an 
overdose of OxyContin. A 17-year-old from LaFayette has been indicted for 
involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct in the death.
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