Pubdate: Sat, 24 Mar 2007
Source: Gloucester Daily Times (MA)
Copyright: 2007 Essex County Newspapers, Incorporated.
Author: Douglas A. Moser , Staff writer
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin Overdose)


Police Cite Drug 50 Times More Potent Than Heroin

Drug overdoses caused by a prescription opiate that is 50 times more 
potent than heroin have increased in Gloucester, police detectives say.

The number of overdoses overall has not increased in Gloucester, 
Detectives Ken Ryan and Sean Conners said. Their concern, however, is 
the increase in the use of fentanyl, which is manufactured as a patch 
that releases the drug into the blood system through the skin over 
time. Fentanyl patches are designed for chronic pain. Those who abuse 
the drug cut the patch and ingest it by chewing on it, Ryan said.

The city's Board of Health is also aware of the pattern among users 
in the city.

"There has been a shift in the drug type," said Jack Vondras, the 
city's health agent. "What I've heard is fentanyl and heroin."

What many are discovering, though, is that fentanyl is much more 
potent than heroin - about 50 times more potent, Conners said - 
leading some to overdose.

OxyContin The Root

Besides longtime heroin users looking for a stronger high, some 
younger people have found themselves addicted to heroin, and also 
looking for fentanyl, after starting with OxyContin.

The arrival of OxyContin, the brand name of the opiate oxycodone, as 
a prescription painkiller soon led to its recreational use, said Gary 
Langis, of CAB Health and Recovery Services. Recreational use 
introduced addictive opiates to a different group of people.

Last fall, the last of 13 defendants in a Gloucester-based OxyContin 
distribution ring was sentenced to prison in federal court, ending a 
string of trials generated by a bust on June 29 and 30, 2004.

"In Gloucester and around the North Shore, when OxyContin started, 
that was a real shift," Langis said. "A lot of younger people started 
using it as a party drug. It doesn't take long before you're addicted 
to OxyContin. Then they start to realize it's expensive."

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, OxyContin was 
approved for medicinal use in 1995 to relieve moderate to severe 
pain. It was introduced commercially the following year, and reports 
of abuse began to surface in 2000. Oxycodone is a schedule II drug, 
meaning it has a high risk of abuse among drugs with 
government-recognized medicinal value and has a tendency to lead to 
serious physical and or psychological dependance.

OxyContin typically costs between $50 and $80 per pill on the street. 
People who find themselves addicted soon turn to heroin, "which you 
can by for $5 to $10 per packet," Langis said.

Use of OxyContin for recreation opened opiates to a younger crowd, 
and once they began developing addictions, Langis said the median age 
of heroin users began to drop as well.

"When I started at CAB (in 1997), the median age was about 36," he 
said. "Now it's down to 30."

Fighting The Abuse

Local and regional groups are part of a three-pronged strategy to 
fight opiate abuse that includes prevention, education and prosecution.

Vondras is a member of the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative, a local 
prevention group that includes representatives from Gloucester's 
Police and School departments, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, 
local parents and health-care providers.

The collaborative hosts a number of prevention education sessions, 
including a dinner for parents and teens May 24 at Valentino's and a 
community question-and-answer session about drug and alcohol abuse at 
Sawyer Free Library on April 4, Vondras said.

CAB focuses on preventing overdoses from occurring and educating 
users how to deal with an overdose.

"It's a harm-reduction approach," Langis said. "We have to accept 
that this is going on. We want to keep them alive long enough to 
convince them to go into treatment, especially the younger users."

CAB works with users through detoxification centers in Danvers and 
Boston, a methadone clinic in Danvers, and outpatient services in 
Salem, Danvers and Woburn.

Methadone is a treatment for the side effects of opiate withdrawal.

Statistics about overdoses and the circumstances surrounding them are 
not compiled on a statewide basis.

Preventing Overdoses

Ryan and Conners said the Gloucester Police Department does not track 
overdoses. There were a total of 68 overdose deaths in 2006 in Essex 
County, said Stephen O'Connell, a spokesman for Essex County District 
Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

In recent years, deaths in Gloucester from overdoses have been 
prevented by the antiopiate drug Narcan. Rescue squads now carry 
Narcan to revive overdose victims.

"One of the main reasons death is prevented is because of the rescue 
squad paramedics," Conners said.

One tool law enforcement has been using to stem supply is charging 
suppliers who sold a drug responsible for a user's death with manslaughter.

Robert Lezynski, Ryan said, sold a co-worker a fentanyl patch in 
December 2004. The man chewed the patch and passed out.

Lezynski called 911 but left the man in his car in freezing 
temperatures, police said. The victim was pronounced dead at Addison 
Gilbert Hospital. As a result, police and Blodgett persuaded a secret 
grand jury to indict Lezynski with manslaughter in October.

In addition, Ryan said detectives will contact doctors if they find 
patients selling or abusing prescribed medicine, whether fentanyl, 
OxyContin, Percocets, Vicodin or a range of other narcotic painkillers.

"We'll contact them if their patient's drugs are being distributed on 
the streets, but we can't tell doctors what to do," Ryan said.

Addictive Opiates


* FDA approved in 1995 and released the following year; used legally 
as an opiate to relieve pain.

* Some who use it as prescribed to treat pain develop addictions.

* Some who cannot end their addiction sometimes turn to much cheaper 
doses of heroin.

* A tablet of OxyContin can cost between $50 and $80 on the street, 
depending on the weight.

* A dose of heroin costs between $5 and $10.


* Fentanyl is a newer, more powerful opiate used to treat chronic severe pain.

* It is administered through a patch that releases the drug over time 
through the skin.

* Those who abuse it cut the patch and put it in their mouths.

* Police estimate it is about 50 times more potent than heroin.

* A patch costs about $50 on the street.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman