OxyContin abuse and publicity hurting patients who may need the Schedule II drug

Media coverage of OxyContin abuse is hurting patients who rely on the narcotic pain killer.




OxyContin abuse and publicity hurting pain patients who may need the Schedule II drug

Media coverage of a big Kentucky drug bust that snared more than 200 OxyContin dealers and users last month is hurting patients who need the Schedule II medication for pain control, according to the drug's manufacturer.

Recent newspaper headlines screamed about a "deadly new drug" above articles about the rise of OxyContin abuse in rural areas of the East where it's black market price is reportedly $1 per milligram. But dealers and addicts have subverted OxyContin's indicated use for control of moderate to severe pain. And patients who need the analgesic to improve the quality of their lives are now suffering from the adverse publicity, according to manufacturer Purdue Pharma.


"We've had a lot of calls, since this hit, from patients who are desperate because all of a sudden their doctor has stopped prescribing it or their pharmacist has stopped stocking it due to the bad publicity," said James Heins, Purdue Pharma's assistant public relations director. "They're having trouble getting it for their legitimate medical needs. They've had good pain control with this product, and now all of a sudden they can't get it. That patient will go to another doctor trying to get the same level of care. We are really concerned that this is going to label legitimate patients as drug seekers. We are very concerned that the publicity will have an adverse impact on their pain care."

As part of Purdue Pharma's professional education effort, pharmacists will be receiving a brochure on ways to spot drug diversion and abuse, Heins said. The Stamford, Conn., drug firm is also launching a pilot program in Maine to distribute free tamper-proof Rx pads to physicians. If the pilot is successful, the company will consider expansion of the program to other areas experiencing diversion problems.

The raid that triggered the OxyContin media attention occurred in southeastern Kentucky last month when more than 200 suspects were rounded up. OxyContin abuse is also reportedly on the rise in rural areas of Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Several Kentucky pharmacies have been robbed at gunpoint by dealers or addicts looking to score OxyContin, according to Mike Mayes, executive director of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association. "OxyContin is selling real good on the street," he said. "A lot of it is Medicaid patients getting prescriptions filled and then selling it. There have been several pharmacy holdups where all they took was OxyContin, not even cash. Some pharmacy owners are afraid for the safety of their staff."

Abusers use pill crushers to pulverize OxyContin so it can then be snorted or dissolved for injection. Some addicts also reportedly peel off the outer extended-release coating and chew the tablets, which are known as oxy or OC on the street. Some addicts report using large amounts of OxyContin, including a man who said on an Internet message board that he had consumed 90 tablets in 10 days and a woman who said she was using as much as 400 mg per day.

Although the East seems to be the epicenter of OxyContin abuse, pharmacy boards in the widely scattered states of Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin all report increased OxyContin action. In Arizona, the pharmacy board works closely with law enforcement agencies, and "recent Rx forgeries and other scams involving OxyContin have been fax-broadcast to the pharmacy community," said executive director Llyn Lloyd.

In Wisconsin, there have been reports of burglary and robbery of pharmacies where OxyContin was taken, said Arthur Thexton, prosecuting attorney in the division of enforcement in the state department of regulation and licensing. He added, "Two years ago, the pharmacy examining board did require all pharmacies to install centrally monitored alarms, and we believe that this will improve public safety."

In view of OxyContin abuse, R.Ph.s should scrutinize Rxs and check with prescribers, but they must also realize that they're not cops, said Donald Williams, R.Ph., executive director of the Washington State pharmacy board. He added, "We should not let our desire to thwart forgeries and diversion interfere with our obligation to provide pharmaceutical care."

Carol Ukens


Carol Ukens. OxyContin abuse and publicity hurting patients who may need the Schedule II drug. Drug Topics 2001;5:24.