HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html House Members Say Firm Did Little To Halt OxyContin Abuse
Pubdate: Wed, 12 Dec 2001
Source: Courier-Journal, The (KY)
Copyright: 2001 The Courier-Journal
Author: James R. Carroll

House Members Say Firm Did Little To Halt Oxycontin Abuse

Rogers Calls For Probe Of Painkiller

Rep. Hal Rogers -- facing an epidemic of OxyContin abuse in his Eastern 
Kentucky district -- said yesterday that he'll seek an investigation of how 
the manufacturer marketed and promoted the powerful painkiller.

Rogers, R-5th District, joined Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., in calling for a 
General Accounting Office investigation after clashing at a hearing with a 
top official of Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn. based manufacturer of 

Rogers and Wolf said the company was too aggressive in marketing the drug, 
sold in time-release pills for treatment of chronic pain, and has failed to 
act to halt the abuse.

Dr. Paul Goldenheim, executive vice president of Purdue Pharma, defended 
the company's marketing methods and its efforts to combat the abuse and 
said he welcomed a GAO examination. The GAO is the investigative agency of 

At a hearing of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Asa 
Hutchinson, head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said law 
enforcement organizations are still struggling to get the problem under 

The DEA has blamed 117 deaths in 31 states in the past two years on 
OxyContin and suspects 179 more deaths are related to the drug. Earlier 
this year, federal authorities blamed OxyContin for 59 deaths in Eastern 
Kentucky in announcing a crackdown on illegal trafficking.

''I do not believe we have reached the peak of this problem yet,'' 
Hutchinson told the congressional panel.

A number of local and state law enforcement officials also testified, 
saying OxyContin has led to suicides, ruined families and left communities 
struggling with violent crime.

''It has been a nightmare for me,'' said former Hazard Police Chief Rod 
Maggard, who retired in March. ''. . . If this had been measles or 
smallpox, our community would have been quarantined from the rest of the 

Many of the law enforcement officials called for a national program to 
monitor all prescriptions, much like the systems now used in Kentucky and 
13 other states.

Goldenheim defended Purdue Pharma's response to the rise in abuse of 
OxyContin but was scolded by Rogers.

''Your company did nothing and people were dying!'' Rogers said.

Goldenheim said that addressing the illegal use of the drug was his 
company's ''highest priority.''

But Rogers pointed to reports about a sudden increase in OxyContin 
prescriptions from a clinic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where lines formed 
outside the doors and cars jammed the parking lot.

''It is obvious to me if you got that kind of spike in one location of the 
country, you ought to pay attention to it, and you didn't, did you?'' 
Rogers asked.

Goldenheim said the company noted the situation and talked to physicians 
and pharmacists about making sure only legitimate patients were given the drug.

''Our powers are limited here,'' he said.

''Oh, give me a break!'' Rogers interrupted, citing a fourfold increase in 
OxyContin addicts at the clinic in the past 18 months.

''How do you explain it? How did you not notice something was wrong in 
Myrtle Beach?'' Rogers asked.

Goldenheim said that if carloads of people were seeking the drug, local 
police should have taken action. ''We have no way of knowing whether or not 
people are engaged in criminal activity at that clinic,'' he said.

He said the company doesn't sell OxyContin directly to doctors or to 
clinics. ''We don't control what they prescribe -- that's not our job,'' he 
said. ''We can't stop them from prescribing our product.''

''We can,'' Rogers shot back.

Rep. Jose Serrano, a Democrat whose Bronx district has seen decades of drug 
abuse but has yet to see an OxyContin problem, warned Goldenheim that the 
company needs to show it is fully committed to aiding in the fight against 
illegal use of its product or ''you're going to be banned from selling it.''

OxyContin was launched in 1996 to help doctors treat patients with chronic 
pain. But abusers discovered that crushing the pills bypassed their 
time-release feature and allowed an instant high.

Signs of abuse began showing up early last year in Maine, followed by 
Eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia.

The DEA prosecuted only six cases involving illegal use of OxyContin in 
1999. That rose to 37 cases last year and rocketed to 168 more cases this 
year through August, Hutchinson said.

Sales of OxyContin went from $4 million in 1996 to $1 billion last year. 
West Virginia State Police Capt. Rick Hall said OxyContin ''has devastated 

''If this was a product like a car tire or something, it would be 
recalled,'' he said. ''I'm not so sure it shouldn't be.''

Wolf, explaining why he wants a GAO investigation, said, ''My sense is the 
marketing has been excessive.''

But Goldenheim said the company hasn't aggressively pushed the drug and, 
since its illegal use became known, has emphasized to doctors and 
pharmacists the dangers of abuse and ways it can end up being illegally 
resold on the street.

Maggard and others said addicts can get around a prescription monitoring 
program like the one in Kentucky by going to a nearby state, like Virginia 
or West Virginia, that lacks such monitoring. Only a national network 
covering every state, like criminal identifications, will be effective, 
Maggard said.

Donnie Coots, pastor at Mason's Creek Church of God in Hazard, introduced 
the congressmen to his 22 year-old son Joshua, who became addicted to 
OxyContin. The elder Coots said his son, after forging checks on the 
church's bank account, was forced to choose between jail and a 
rehabilitation program.

The youth chose the latter and after six months' treatment returned home 
last month, his father said.

''OxyContin is killing folks, and it's killing them now,'' Donnie Coots 
said. ''I wish I had some real wisdom from God to tell the company or you 
to 'do this.'

''I'm begging you, please do something.''
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