HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Alarm Over Abuse of New Drug
Pubdate: Sat, 10 Feb 2001
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Francisco Chronicle
Contact:  901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103
Bookmark: (Oxycontin)


Addicts Circumventing Time-Release Feature Of Oxycontin

Lexington, Ky. -- Harried police detectives in dozens of rural areas in 
Eastern states are combatting what they say is a growing wave of drug abuse 
involving a potent painkiller prescribed for terminal cancer patients and 
other people with severe pain.

Addicts favor the drug because they have learned to circumvent its slow, 
time-released protection and achieve a sudden, powerful morphine-like high. 
People crush the pills into powder and snort it, or inject it to get a 
euphoric high. It sells on the illegal drug market for up to $100 a pill.

The drug has led to an increase in crime in eastern Kentucky, said Hazard 
Police Chief Rod Maggard. He estimated that 90 percent of the thefts and 
burglaries in Hazard are to get money to buy more pills.

In a detox center in Ashland, about 75 percent of the patients treated over 
the past 18 months have used OxyContin, said Bill Stewart, a supervisor for 
the regional mental health agency.

OxyContin is often covered under health care plans. The abuse of the drug, 
which has been tracked over the past 18 months, has set off a wave of 
pharmacy break-ins, emergency room visits and arrests of physicians and 
other health care workers.

Illicit dealers have used suffering patients as well as fakers, authorities 
report, to "doctor shop" to obtain the drug, OxyContin, for resale.

Along with Kentucky, officials have cited a troubling number of cases in 
Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine and Ohio, according 
to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center.

DEA officials in San Francisco and Washington D.C. told The Chronicle 
yesterday that there did not appear to be widespread reports of abuse of 
OxyContin in Northern California.

"Heck, we already know it's pretty epidemic down here," said Capt. Minor 
Allen of the Hazard police in southeastern Kentucky, where 207 reported 
dealers and users were arrested this week in the biggest drug-abuse raid in 
state history.

The abuse first drew alarm in Maine 18 months ago in rural, eastern areas 
not previously known for having drug problems, according to Jay P. 
McCloskey, the U.S. attorney for Maine.

"What is most unusual and disturbing is the number of high school kids and 
those in their early 20s who got addicted," said McCloskey, noting that his 
small state was one of the largest consumers of OxyContin on a per-capita 

Joseph L. Famularo, the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Kentucky 
who helped lead the Kentucky raid, said, "I personally counted 59 deaths 
since January of last year that local police attributed to addicts using 
the drug, and I suspect that's pretty conservative."

That number was disputed by the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma of Norwalk, Conn.

"I'm concerned about inflammatory statements like that," said Dr. J. David 
Haddox, the medical director for Purdue Pharma. He emphasized that overdose 
deaths typically involve multiple factors like alcohol, and that 
exaggeration of abuses might cause physicians to deny the drug to suffering 
cancer patients.

But authorities express little doubt that the abuse of OxyContin is spreading.

"The graph is spiking," said Robert Crouch, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, 
Va., where 100 local, state and federal law enforcement officials met 
Wednesday to discuss the mounting problem of OxyContin abuse there.

On Thursday, authorities said that at least 28 people in Virginia had died 
from overdoses of OxyContin in the past two years, and medical officials 
said that that number would easily double as coroners examine an additional 
100 deaths.

Chronicle staff writer Henry Lee and the Associated Press contributed to 
this report.
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