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The rise of hillbilly heroin

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Defining a painkiller

What is OxyCotin:

A synthetic drug designed as a pain medication and considered highly addictive. Abusers take it for its opiate-like effects. Also called Oxy, OC's, O's, hillbilly heroin.

Who abuses it:

Abusers often begin by buying or stealing the drug from relatives or friends who have legal prescriptions. Some "doctor shop" and obtain prescriptions from several physicians in a short period

The penalties:

Fraudulently obtaining the drug is a considered a class D felony. Selling it illegally is a class B felony and can garner up to 15 years in prison.

By Mike Wells ~ Southeast Missourian

A highly addictive narcotic designed to ease suffering and combat pain is rising in regional popularity again, forcing area pharmacists into the role of lie detector.

Oxycodone, commonly sold under the brand name OxyContin, is sought by abusers using either fake prescriptions or legal prescriptions obtained under false pretenses.

OxyContin is the top brand-name painkiller being abused for it's heroin-like high, according to www.oxycontin-abuse-news.com.

While Missouri has not suffered as much OxyContin abuse as the nearby Appalachian states, the problem exists here, said Kevin Glaser, director of the SEMO Drug Task Force.

"We had a flurry of them about a year and a half ago and it leveled off for a while, but we're starting to see more of it pop up," Glaser said. "These types of drugs run like kind of a fad. It's the hot item right now. We'll see an upsurge and then it will level off again."

Currently, the SEMO Drug Task Force is also investigating some physicians who appear to be over-prescribing the drug, Glaser said.

"Law enforcement and the Legislature have very little to do with who can get it, and we really don't want to interfere and hinder anyone who legitimately needs it," Glaser said. "It all comes down to the physicians doing the right thing by making sure it's going to the person who truly has a need for it."

On guard

Medical professionals need to be on guard against fraud all the time, said pharmacist Keith Middleton of Broadway Prescriptions in Cape Girardeau.

"You're always suspicious when you get a prescription from out of town or a doctor you're not familiar with," Middleton said. "But, we don't have to fulfill the prescription until we are convinced it is for a legitimate medical need."

OxyContin is not unlike many other pain drugs, where there is always a potential for addiction and abuse. It was developed for use by patients with severe pain or undergoing treatments for cancer.

"You can develop a physical or mental addiction to where you can't do without the drug," Middleton said. "The problem with these type of drugs is when it you use it and not for pain but for some illicit use."

OxyContin is a time-released drug, staying in the body for long periods of time, releasing small amounts in intervals, Middleton said. Overdoses occur when pills are chewed or when they are crushed and diluted with water to be injected.

The drug can only be purchased in a 30-day supply. To circumvent this, abusers seek out several doctors in a short period of time to obtain a prescription from each of them. However, Middleton said this is eventually caught by insurance agencies, who refuse to pay for early refills.

Other warning signs can be customers seeking OxyContin in unusually large quantities or with inaccurate directions on their prescription, new customers from out of the region, and customers arriving a few minutes before the pharmacy closes.

Not one profile

No narrow profile exists of those involved in illegally obtaining the drug, Middleton said.

"It can be a man, woman or children," he said. Sometimes, they'll send someone else in to pose as a family member. They'll even send in a child, thinking that we can't question one or are more willing to accept a child seeking to fill the prescription."

However, Glaser of the drug task force said women appear to be outnumbering the men. Three women were arrested and charged last month in Perry County with illegally distributing the drug. Dorothy J. Faulkner, Dawn M. Cline, and Judy C. Combs, allegedly sold the drug to an undercover officer in Perryville, Mo.

"For whatever reason, there tend to be more women going to the doctors more often," he said. "All they have to do is say they have some pain and the doctor will prescribe OxyContin."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160


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