Pubdate: Thu, 13 Jan 2005
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Jill Harmacinski

Index -- Special On Opiate Use (Eagle-Tribune) --
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)
Bookmark: (Youth)


NORTH ANDOVER -- Kathleen Lawrence was smart, came from a two-parent, 
middle-class family, had a passion for running to stay fit and was so 
health conscious that she refused to eat meat. To all outward appearances, 
she had the perfect life.

But the attractive blonde also became a drug addict while in high school, 
and the demon ended up taking her life at age 21, turning her into yet 
another tragic story that knows no social or economic boundaries. "She came 
from a good family," said her father, Timothy Lawrence. "She had a lot of 
opportunities. She fought it as if it was a disease -- like she had cancer. 
And the disease just beat her."

It happened in November 2003, he said, when she overdosed on heroin while 
desperately trying to shake an addiction that started when she was 
introduced by peers to the opiate high of OxyContin, a prescription pain 
pill, at age 16. Lawrence, a veteran Lynn firefighter, spoke about his 
family nightmare at a Merrimack College drug-awareness forum organized by 
District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. Scores of local police officers, 
educators, nurses, doctors and community leaders attended the session.

It was difficult, Lawrence said, to talk so frankly about how his daughter 
got hooked and her battle with drugs, but he felt obligated to do so in the 
hope  that bringing the problem out into the open might prevent other young 
people  from going down her path.

"There is nothing more dreadful than losing a child," he said. "But let's 
be honest. Drug abuse is here, in suburbia, in the best of houses, the best 
of families." Blodgett applauded Lawrence for telling the story of his 
daughter so that families become aware of what he called a devastating 
opiate-drug crisis among young people in cities and towns North of Boston. 
He said abuse of Oxycontin and  the use of heroin affect affluent 
communities like Andover and Marblehead the same as urban cities like Lynn 
and Lawrence.

North Shore communities have been particularly hit hard. Two days ago, the 
superintendent of schools in Salem, Mass., Herbert Levine, said he plans to 
form  a task force to investigate how that school district can carry out 
random drug  testing of students as a preventative measure. Levine said 
that his son, Joel, 20, is currently recovering from an addiction to 
OxyContin, and that parents and schools need to take extraordinary 
measures  to combat the problem.

The National Federation of High School Associations said that about 13 
percent of high schools across the country have a drug-testing policy. Of 
those that test, the group said, the majority target student-athletes, but 
20 percent test all students. Levine said he believes the testing should 
start in the middle schools.

The pharmaceutical company that makes OxyContin, Purdue Pharma of Stamford, 
Conn., told the forum the effort to curtail drug abuse requires the efforts 
of everyone in the community -- from parents, law enforcement and doctors 
to kids  themselves.

"We have an obligation as business leaders, citizens and parents to come to 
the table, roll up our sleeves and do what we can to save our kids," said 
Clay Yeager, a Purdue executive who works with communities interested in 
combating  drug-abuse problems.

Blodgett and other authorities said that OxyContin, a prescription pill 
designed for chronic pain, has become the abused drug of choice for 
young  people, who crumble and sniff it to get an opiate high.

But because OxyContin is so expensive ($80 per pill) they turn to cheaper 
heroin ($4 per bag) and soon become hopelessly hooked, the forum was told. 
The result is ruined young lives and, in many instances, family tragedy. 
Purdue Pharma spokesman C.R. "Robin" Hogen said doctors wrote 61/2 million 
OxyContin prescriptions last year for legal purposes, but abuse results 
when people steal the drug from family medicine cabinets or buy it on the 
street from  illicit drug dealers.

Hogen said Purdue Pharma first became aware of the abuse of OxyContin in 
the Bangor, Maine, area in April 2000. He described misuse of the drug as a 
"phenomenon of pop culture ... something we take very seriously." Purdue 
Pharma, Hogen said, is trying to develop a new drug that loses its 
painkilling properties if addicts crush and snort it. But that drug, dubbed 
a "smart pill," which works properly if swallowed and sickens an addict 
that snorts it, will take years to develop, said Hogen. "Are we close? It's 
a race, but we can't see the finish line," he said. He added that even a 
gel form of OxyContin wouldn't deter abuse, since addicts could liquefy the 
drug and then drink or inject it, he said. The company also works with 
communities to develop prevention programs like "Painfully Obvious," a 
campaign aimed at seventh- and eighth-graders. In frank language and 
explicit descriptions, the program warns of the dangers of 
prescription-drug abuse.

In his role as community partnership director, Yeager works with cities and 
towns to implement the "Community That Cares" program, which helps identify 
why  local kids become involved with drugs. The city of Lynn has embarked 
on the project, bolstered by a $25,000 grant last fall from Purdue Pharma. 
But when asked why they thought more kids were abusing OxyContin, neither 
Hogen nor Yeager had a clear-cut answer. Many factors are beyond the 
company's control, including peer pressure, despair and hopelessness among 
teens, as well  as mixed messages from the media, Yeager said. "Kids have 
not changed, but the influences have," he said. Timothy Lawrence gave 
witness to that. He said over the years, he continually felt blessed. While 
he worked as a Lynn firefighter, his wife, Joan, stayed home  to raise 
their four children. But when Kathleen was about 16, attending 
Lynn  Classical High School, she started partying on weekends, drinking 
alcohol and smoking pot.

Then she became addicted to OxyContin. "It was a very slippery slope," he said.

When they realized their daughter was an addict, Lawrence said, he and his 
wife did everything possible to help her. They researched addiction, called 
doctors, sent Kathleen to treatment programs. Financially and emotionally, 
they exhausted themselves.

But while Kathleen was in a treatment program for OxyContin on Cape Cod, 
another patient introduced her to heroin. She desperately wanted to get 
clean and commit her life to helping others with drug problems. Lawrence 
knows he's not alone. He said he's friendly with four other couples who 
lost children to heroin overdoses. One couple moved from Lynn to New 
Hampshire years ago to get away from the city, the crime and the drugs. 
Yet, he said, heroin found its way there and killed their child, too. 
"Heroin doesn't discriminate," said Lawrence. "It gets to the best of 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth