Pubdate: Fri, 24 Oct 2003
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2003 Orlando Sentinel
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


The powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin has become a health
menace that deserves immediate action from doctors and officials on
the state and federal levels.

A nine-month Orlando Sentinel investigation found that, between 2001
and 2002, OxyContin had been linked to more than 200 deaths in
Florida. The research also showed that unless doctors and patients
understand clearly how the OxyContin works -- which many apparently do
not -- it's easy to become accidentally addicted. That's no surprise
because the active ingredient in OxyContin is oxycodone, which is
derived from the opium poppy that also is used to produce heroin. What
makes this issue particularly alarming is that many of the addiction
and overdose victims were not recreational drug users seeking a quick
high. They were legitimate patients who went to their doctors seeking
relief from pain associated with an injury or sickness. Those victims
put their faith in their doctors and ended up dead, or broken.

One of the major problems is that OxyContin had been marketed to
doctors as a wonder drug. Physicians were encouraged to prescribe it
for a range of problems from headaches to back pain. Yet OxyContin was
not developed for such use. When OxyContin was introduced in 1996, it
was intended to treat critical pain experienced by some cancer
patients. But OxyContin's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, succeeded in
persuading the federal Food and Drug Administration to classify
OxyContin for use by people suffering "moderate to severe" pain, which
made it available to a wider range of patients. Then the company
aggressively marketed the drug to doctors -- some of whom lack
expertise in pain management. Some unscrupulous doctors also took
advantage of patients and overprescribed the medication.

The widespread OxyContin addiction and overdose problems in Florida
and throughout the nation show that the FDA classification needs to be
changed. Its use should be restricted only to people suffering from
severe pain. A federal investigation expected to be complete on Monday
can be helpful in changing that classification.

It's also noteworthy that Gov. Jeb Bush this week promised to put his
political muscle behind a legislative measure to launch a system to
track prescription-drug abuse. The system would identify problems,
such as doctors or patients who may be overusing the drug. OxyContin's
manufacturer has agreed to pay $2 million of the cost for the system
in exchange for an agreement that it won't be sued by Florida. But if
lawmakers fail to approve the system by July, the deal will die.

State lawmakers showed this week that they have the ability to act
quickly when they want to. This is a life-and-death issue that they
can't afford to falter on during next spring's regular session.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin