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THIEVES TARGET PAIN-DRUG PATCHES

The Register-Guard

PHILADELPHIA - A Pennsylvania nurse has been accused of slipping into two nursing homes where he used to work and stealing medicated pain-relief patches off the backs of elderly patients in what federal figures show is an increasingly common type of drug abuse. 

"It's terrible to think that someone would stoop that low," said Gary Dobias, the district attorney in Carbon County, about 70 miles north of Philadelphia. 

U.S.  prescriptions for the Duragesic patches and their reservoir of the powerful painkiller fentanyl increased 33 percent between 2000 and 2001, and with the drug's popularity have come more reports of abuse, especially among health care workers. 

"For many years, fentanyl was actually the drug of choice of the addicted anesthesiologist," said Dr.  Joel Nathan of the Addiction Recovery Institute in New York.  "Outside of that, we are probably talking mostly about low-paid people in the nursing industry, like nursing aides and other uncertified health care workers."

Nationwide, at least 512 people were treated for fentanyl abuse in hospital emergency rooms in the first six months of 2001, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

While complete 2001 data are not yet available, the numbers point to a major increase over 2000 when 576 people were treated in emergency rooms and 1999, when 337 visited emergency rooms.  Only 28 fentanyl-related hospitalizations were recorded in 1994. 

Behind the numbers are the abusers - many of whom have access to the drug at work and know how to extract fentanyl from the patch and inject or inhale it. 

Paul Colasurdo, a licensed practical nurse, was charged last week with stealing patches from elderly patients in two nursing homes.  Colasurdo boiled the patches in water to extract the fentanyl, then injected it, Dobias alleges. 

Colasurdo denies taking the drugs and is being held on $250,000 bail. 

In January, John David Needles, 32, former administrator of a nursing home in Cedar City, Utah, pleaded guilty to three counts of elderly abuse for tearing patches off of female residents. 

In Massachusetts, nurses' aide Ruth S.  Rowe, 26, pleaded guilty in November to stealing a fentanyl patch off the back of a 90-year-old patient, extracting the potent drug and drinking it. 

Police said Dr.  Jonathan Ludwig Koukal, 43, an anesthesiologist in Jeannette, Pa., committed suicide in Niagara Falls, N.Y., in August after he was charged with stealing fentanyl from a hospital and replacing it with sterile water.  The watered-down drug was given to several patients during surgery. 

Jamey Phillip Sheets, 32, former co-owner of a Pleasant Hill, Calif., pharmacy was found dead Tuesday with six fentanyl patches stuck to his body.  His wife said he was depressed that his pharmacy license was suspended in connection with a meningitis outbreak. 

Doctors note that reports of fentanyl abuse still pale in comparison to abuse of other narcotic painkillers. 

By comparison, nearly 11,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2000 for abuse of oxycodone, the drug sold under the brand-name OxyContin.  More than 7,800 people overdosed on oxycodone in the first six months of 2001. 

Dr.  Yusuf Mosuro, attending physician in Temple University Hospital's pain clinic, said that while fentanyl abuse hasn't become "epidemic," like OxyContin, it has the potential to become a bigger problem unless doctors carefully control who gets the drug. 

"The problem with OxyContin is that it was being marketed to primary care physicians to treat all sorts of severe pain, and these doctors were not always trained properly on how to make sure that the medication wasn't abused," Mosuro said. 

The Duragesic patch, which is made by Janssen Pharmaceutica, has been marketed far less vigorously than OxyContin, Mosuro said, and is prescribed most by specialists in hospitals, where it is kept under lock and key. 

Still, the Drug Enforcement Agency considers fentanyl a potential drug of abuse that can come in doses more than 100 times as powerful as heroin. 

Janssen spokesman Greg Panico said the company monitors reports of abuse and urges doctors to prescribe the drug responsibly. 

"These drugs are carefully controlled, and it is really the physician who has been ( responsible for ensuring ) that patients who receive them are appropriate or in chronic pain."


MAP posted-by: Beth

Pubdate: Fri, 29 Mar 2002
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2002 The Register-Guard
Contact: rgletters@guardnet.com
Website: http://www.registerguard.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/362
Author: Associated Press