HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Illegal Sale, Use Of a Painkiller Alarms Officials
Pubdate: Wed, 14 Mar 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Page: T03
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author:  Josh White, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Oxycontin)


State Proposes Database To Monitor OxyContin

Virginia officials are considering creating a database to monitor the
distribution of the prescription painkiller OxyContin amid new police
warnings that Northern Virginia is becoming a clearinghouse for the
illegal sale of the narcotic.

Virginia State Police said this week that investigators have seen an
influx of OxyContin addicts in the northern and eastern parts of
Virginia, many of whom are ducking crackdowns in neighboring states
such as Kentucky, where prescriptions are closely monitored.

Several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have reported a sharp rise
in the illegal sale and abuse of the drug since the beginning of the
year, and officials in southwest Virginia have said that abuse of the
drug has reached epidemic proportions in the last 18 months.

"There's no question that there's a major problem and we need to
address it," said Lucy Caldwell, Virginia State Police spokeswoman.
"In addition to abuse, we are seeing an increase in OxyContin addicts
coming to these areas, purchasing the stuff and leaving."

State officials think the drug, which is a synthetic form of morphine
and is used to treat pain in terminal cancer patients and others, is
responsible for 30 to 50 deaths and countless overdoses in the last 18
months. The state medical examiner's office has been directed to
create an official list of deaths linked to the drug.

Authorities say most of the pills on the street flow from physicians'
offices after abusers and dealers fake ailments or prescriptions.
Others steal directly from pharmacies. State police said investigators
are working closely with federal and local authorities to target the
sources of illegal sales.

In Prince William and Fauquier counties, law enforcement officials say
OxyContin is gaining popularity among drug users and is poised to
overtake cocaine and heroin in availability and sales. There have been
several arrests throughout Northern Virginia in the last few months
related to illegal possession of the drug and for thefts that involved
thousands of dollars worth of the pills.

Over the last month, state police have been investigating the theft of
more than $ 12,000 worth of OxyContin from a Fairfax County pharmacy.
Also, a Manassas man was arrested three weeks ago after allegedly
stealing 90 bottles of the painkiller from The Plains Pharmacy in Fauquier.

"From what we're hearing, OxyContin will probably take over crack if
it continues to be available on the street," said Prince William
Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D). "It's becoming more and
more available, and we are learning that junkies prefer it to cocaine
and heroin."

Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R) has said he is interested
in studying a database that would track legitimate prescriptions
across the state. At a meeting with Earley on March 1, Purdue Pharma
L.P., OxyContin's manufacturer, pledged $ 100,000 to fund the study
and vowed to help with education efforts for medical professionals and

"The attorney general has had very productive talks with the
manufacturer and has gotten assurances they will do everything in
their power to keep this drug in legitimate patients' hands," said
David Botkins, a spokesman for Earley's office.

A significant part of Earley's effort to keep OxyContin in the hands
of those who truly need it centers on education. His office announced
this week that a presentation tailored to middle and high school
students about the dangers of the drug should be ready by April 1.

State police said that children as young as 10 are using the drug -- a
boy was caught recently snorting a crushed pill -- and that many
teenagers are found with pill-crushers that allow them to break open
the time-release OxyContin tablets for a quick and powerful high.

"It's not too early to introduce seventh- and eighth-graders to this
type of information because police are seeing increasingly young
people, even young teenagers, carrying personal pill crushers in
southwest Virginia," Caldwell said. "We need to attack the problem."

Caldwell said state police officials have added an agent to the
department's criminal investigations bureau specifically to deal with
health-care related crimes, largely in response to OxyContin abuse.
Earley has also announced the creation of state and national task
forces -- which he will chair -- focusing on stopping abuse.

Purdue Pharma, which has cited the benefits of OxyContin to chronic
pain sufferers while consistently offering assistance to local law
enforcement agencies on preventing abuse, plans to pay for production
and distribution of tamper-resistant prescription pads to physicians
in areas hardest hit by abuse.
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