Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jul 2010
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2010 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Kim Bolan


More and more are popping the painkiller OxyContin to take the edge
off their violent lives

When gangster Dennis Karbovanec walked into a Surrey high-rise in
October 2007 and shot three people in the head, he was addicted to the
powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin.

And when his former Red Scorpion gang-mate Anton Hooites-Meursing
played a role in the same Surrey Six murder plot, he was also
struggling with an addiction to the pill police say is akin to
"prescription heroin."

Jamie Bacon, the purported Red Scorpion leader, is similarly addicted
to the drug, according to a Surrey pretrial memo highlighted in a
recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling condemning Bacon's jail conditions.

Police say an increasing number of mid-level B.C. gangsters are
popping Oxys to relieve the stress and pain of their volatile life in
the criminal underworld.

And one former gangster says the big problem with the synthetic opiate
used to control intense pain is that it removes inhibitions to
troubling gang behaviours including acts of brutality and violence.

In the last two months alone, Abbotsford police have arrested two
gang-linked men with sizable stashes of OxyContin.

Dave Chubb was picked up June 16 after Abbotsford's Gang Suppression
Unit raided a local apartment and found pot, cocaine and 100 OxyContin
tablets. They also seized two handguns, a silencer and ammunition,
leading to a series of gun and drug charges against Chubb.

Six weeks earlier, the same gang unit arrested Chubb's associate Lance
Wust, a longtime Fraser Valley gang member, allegedly with 200 Oxy
pills, a loaded handgun, ammunition, two bulletproof vests and $ 3,000

In May, Jamie Bacon was convicted of possession for the purpose of
trafficking for 108 Oxy pills seized from him in May 2008 when police
arrested him on a series of gun charges for which he was also recently
found guilty.

Abbotsford police Det. Andrew Wooding, a gang expert, says more and
more of the mid-level players in organized crime seem to be using OxyContin.

"OxyContin is on the rise in a huge way," he said. "I can't speak
about every single gang or gangster, but in my experience, Oxy use
crosses all boundaries."

Hells Angels, United Nations, Red Scorpions, Independent Soldiers: these are
just a few of the gangs with members using the mind-altering opiate.

"It is very stressful to live in that world. In the last five years,
everybody has to look over their shoulder. The stakes are very high.
It has had a huge effect on the stress level of these guys," Wooding
said. "We have seen in a short time period, as things have become more
volatile, the increase in Oxy use."

So why would B.C. gang members misuse such an addictive medication?
What does it do for them?

Like heroin, it creates a sense of euphoria.

James Coulter, a former United Nations gang member who now works with
recovering addicts, said many in gang life first take OxyContin to
ease the pain of strenuous gym workouts. The drug numbs them, making
it easier to do longer stretches and more intense exercise.

Oxy also takes the edge off before gangsters go for tattoos, Coulter

Those taking it don't realize how addictive it is. Nor do they
understand it also dulls them emotionally, he said.

"Your emotions are feeling that way, too. It numbs you physically and
numbs you mentally," Coulter said. "It is bad for beating someone up
or treating women like shit because those using it don't have the
normal emotional response. They don't care."

A growing problem

OxyContin is the brand name of a pill containing oxycodone that was
first sold in 1996. Percocets also contain oxycodone, but in a lower
dosage -- usually 5 mg.

Many U.S. cities have documented OxyContin problems over the last
decade. Oxy has become so common and cheap south of the border that it
has been dubbed "Hillbilly Heroin."

In the States, Oxy attracted the middle class with American soccer
moms meeting their dealers in parking lots to score, said Sgt. Pete
Sadler, of Vancouver's drug squad.

The most famous Oxy addict, right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh,
admitted in 2003 that he had taken up to 30 pills a day before going
to rehab.

Sadler said that in Vancouver, Oxy is not commonly used by the local
street addict population who prefer "traditional" B.C. drugs like
heroin and cocaine.

Here Oxy is "a prestige" street drug, he said, that can cost up to $80
a pill.

"It is different among your gangster types. They have more access to
it and more inclination to use it," Sadler said.

"It is not something some amateur chemist is making in his room at
Main and Hastings. It is not cut with rat poison because they are
using it personally."

In fact, police believe B.C.'s entire Oxy supply is coming from
prescriptions filled at local pharmacies. Gangsters buy the pills or
take them off addict customers in exchange for other drugs.

"People who have legal prescriptions for Oxy are now being targeted.
Gangsters are buying up their legitimate prescriptions," Wooding said.
"Finding the supply is always the trickiest."

Both Wooding and Sadler think entrepreneurial local gangs will
undoubtedly begin manufacturing Oxy, given its potential resale
profit. But because it is a drug they also use, quality control will
be essential.

"Because the supply is somewhat limited, it is only a matter of time
before they are actually producing the pills," Wooding said.

More and more prescription Oxy is being provided every year to those
covered by B.C.'s Pharmacare program, according to B.C. government
statistics. The program aids low-income British Columbians and those
with high prescription costs.

Almost three million more Oxy pills were dispensed to program
recipients in 2009 than two years earlier.

In 2006-2007, those on Pharmacare were prescribed 12.89 million pills
containing oxycodone. In 2007-2008, 14 million Oxys were legally
dispensed and by last fiscal year -- 2008-2009 -- the number of pills
was up to 15.8 million.

Sadler said Downtown Eastside addicts with legitimate medical issues
will target doctors they know will give them Oxy prescriptions over
other less-valuable painkillers.

A lucky addict will feel like "he just won the lottery," Sadler

"He'll take the pills down to Carnegie and he'll sell them down

Oxys go for $1 per milligram of oxycodone on the street, Sadler said.
So Percocets with just five milligrams cost $5, while Oxy 40s go for
$40 and Oxy 80s cost $80 a pill.

"Will people pay it? Yes. They can trust it will do what it's supposed
to do," he said.

Some of the Oxy illicitly sold in B.C. also comes from pharmacy
break-ins. Some Metro Vancouver pharmacies post signs saying they
don't stock OxyContin any more, hoping to deter thieves.

Marshall Moleschi, registrar of the College of Pharmacists, said his
organization is constantly working with members to address the problem.

"We participated in the break-in task force," he said. "We are looking
for ways to deal with this issue."

And the B.C. Health Ministry has programs in place to curb abuse of
Oxy prescriptions, ministry spokesman Ryan Jabs said.

Jabs said the Restricted Claimant Review program has identified 3,200
patients who "may only receive prescriptions from a single doctor and
may only fill their prescriptions at a single pharmacy" because of
previous abuse.

OxyContin is also part of a special Duplicate Prescription Program,
meaning doctors must use a special pad for writing

"These prescription forms are personalized for each physician,
numerically recorded and cannot be exchanged between prescribers,"
Jabs said.

While police say they don't believe Oxy is being manufactured by gangs
in B.C., others connected to the criminal world told The Vancouver Sun
that it is in fact being made here in labs that are also producing

Gangsters seem to be willing to take the pills because they are
produced legally, Wooding said.

"It seems that when they put things in pill form, it removes the
street-level stigma," he said.

Popping a neat little pill is "better than people using street

But the gangster addicts don't use OxyContin as prescribed.

The pills contain binders so that the drug is released slowly once
swallowed to provide continuous pain relief for 12 or 24 hours.

Gangsters chew the pill for an instant rush, Wooding said. He has also
seen Oxys ground into powder and snorted. He knows other users liquefy
the pill and inject them.

"When you chew them, you get a more intense high, then it drops off
and it is just a mellow thing," he said.

Addiction denied

Wooding first noticed gangster Oxy use when he was seconded to the
Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit five years ago to work on a
project targeting the East End chapter of the Hells Angels.

Some of those being watched "were chewing on these things all day,"
Wooding said.

Police followed as some of the bikers drove for hours -- all the way
to Chilliwack and back -- to score Oxy.

"We wondered what it was they were doing, driving great distances to
pick up what seemed like a few pills. They were really addicted," he

Since then, he has seen more and more of the pills being used by gang
members who slip into addiction while continuing to deny they have a

When they are arrested and police find Oxy on them, they always claim:
"I am not addicted," Wooding said.

But once they are in jail, they are struggling.

"After 45 minutes, they are begging us to get out. In our business, we
see Oxy as our best friend. Oxy turns these guys into our best
friends. They are almost desperate," Wooding said.

He said Oxy addiction makes some of the gang members willing to

"They'll say 'What do you need to know?' They want to get out so
badly. It is true," Wooding said.

Wooding said he hopes "that message might just deter some people from
getting into it."

OxyContin addict Brittney Lee Irving, who had links to the Independent
Soldiers gang, was killed in Kelowna in April on her way to sell a
large quantity of pot. A former Soldier is now charged with her
murder. And several members of the UN gang charged with plotting to
kill rival Red Scorpions had Oxy among other drugs and weapons when
they were arrested last year, police said at the time.

No one will say if OxyContin has had a direct impact on the level of
violence in Metro Vancouver's gang war.

When Karbovanec pleaded guilty to three of the Surrey Six slayings in
April 2009, a brief statement about his addiction was read in B.C.
Supreme Court as "general background." There was no indication of
whether the drug played a role in the deadliest gangland slaying in
B.C. history.

"He was addicted to OxyContin at the time of the commission of these
offences," is all the statement said.

Hooites-Meursing, who pleaded guilty in April 2010 to two murders
committed in 2001 and 2003, will be a key Crown witness when four
others linked to the Red Scorpions go to trial in 2011.

Hooites-Meursing told The Sun in a series of e-mails that he had also
struggled with an Oxy addiction.

"Turning back to the use of pills, and OxyContin in particular, was
very expensive, but very conducive to numb the pain of loneliness, the
pain of memories, the nightmares that plagued my every night, the
night terrors," Hooites-Meursing said in a March 2010 e-mail.

Even some jailed gangsters have access to OxyContin. A 2007 B.C.
Supreme Court ruling on the sentencing of former Bacon associate Steve
Porsch for a series of arson fires, noted that Porsch "has had access
to marijuana and OxyContin while imprisoned."

Wooding said it is understandable that those caught in gang life would
need some form of stress relief.

But, he said, the addiction "really is the beginning of the end for

"These are the guys who are in the tough spot," Wooding

"When you are thinking about going out and hunting someone down to
kill them or hunting someone down to kidnap them, you need something
to take the edge off."
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