Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jul 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


'The Evolution of Drug Use' Brings Hillbilly Heroin into High

An increasing number of Victoria drug dealers are selling prescription
painkillers -- sometimes referred to as hillbilly heroin -- on the
streets, pushing the city toward a troublesome trend already plaguing
major Canadian cities.

"I would term it as the evolution of the drug use in Victoria," said
Const. Conor King, a drug expert. "What we're seeing is people who are
heroin and cocaine dealers are becoming prescription drug dealers as

Those dealers sell Dilaudid, OxyContin and morphine sulphate --
opium-based painkillers from the same drug class as heroin.
OxyContin's street name is "hillbilly heroin" because its abuse
started mainly in rural areas where heroin was unavailable. Now it has
supplanted heroin as the dominant drug in urban centres.

Users can chew the pills. But for a powerful and immediate high, they
are crushed, mixed with water and injected like heroin, said King.

The painkillers are extremely addictive and result in painful
withdrawal symptoms similar to heroin, said King. But they are legal
and fairly easy to obtain because they can be prescribed by doctors
for a variety of pain issues, including injuries, surgery recovery and
cancer treatments. Abusers create fraudulent prescriptions, travel to
multiple doctors, or fake pain to get a surplus supply, said King.

Victoria police are only beginning to recognize the importance of
opioid street drugs, said King.

But the trend has already ripped through much of Canada. In the
Maritimes, it is considered an epidemic. Prescription painkillers are
now the dominant street drug in cities such as Edmonton, Toronto,
Montreal and Quebec City, according to a study in the Canadian Medical
Association Journal last November.

"In many cites we don't even have heroin anymore," said researcher
Benedikt Fischer, who wrote the study and works at the Centre for
Additions Research B.C. at the University of Victoria. "The opioid
market in many Canadian cities is dominant ... That's probably the
case in Victoria as well."

On the street, the pills are worth between $5 and $20 each, said King.
A typical bottle with as many as 60 pills can fetch more than $1,200.
With such a high street value, medicine cabinets have become a key
target for burglars in residential break-and-enters, say police.

Opioid drugs also have some advantages to heroin. They are measured,
accurate, doses. In comparison, heroin is often only 60 per cent pure
and cut with such things as baby powder to increase the profit for
dealers. Heroin can also come in bad batches when mixed with other
drugs, sparking violent and sometimes fatal reactions.

While the issue has only recently caught the attention of Victoria
police, opioid drug abuse has almost assuredly been a force here for
years, said Fischer, who was in Toronto yesterday working on a study
to determine the source of such drugs in Victoria and Toronto. The
study should be done in a few months, he said.

Victoria police plan to speak to pharmacists around the city next
month to discuss how so many pills are ending up in the hands of dealers.

"If the doctor gives somebody a 25-day supply and they get it filed
every 30 days, it looks perfectly normal," said Wayne Kroschinsky, a
pharmacist at Sukhi Lalli Pharmaceutical Care Clinic in Victoria.
"We've got no way to know if they're only using half of it and selling
half of it."

Meanwhile, police have yet to notice a similar trend in other Island
communities. Port Hardy RCMP Cpl. Marty Hooper said it's not a problem
on the north Island.

"I can't even think of one incident [where] we've come across it yet,"
added North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP Const. Susan Boyes. "But I'm sure it
will only be a matter of time."

Yesterday, OxyContin's maker and three executives were ordered to pay
a $634.5-million fine for misleading the public about the drug's
potential for abuse and addiction. 
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