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OxyContin abuse on rise locally

By Staff
EVIDENCE ROOM n Law enforcement officials say the possession, sale and abuse of OxyContin is on the rise nationwide. These pink 20-milligram tablets and yellow 40-milligram tablets were confiscated locally by law enforcement officers. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star.
By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
July 14, 2001
For several months, OxyContin abuse has made national news, and Lauderdale County is not immune. The illegal possession and sale of the synthetic narcotic is on the rise in East Mississippi, surpassing other commonly abused prescription drugs.
Capt. Leonard Harrison of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics' Meridian District office said his agents first encountered the drug in Carthage about a year ago.
Most offenders are getting the drug from doctors who are prescribing it for alleged medical problems, he said, which is the case with most pharmaceutical drug abuse. The problem has made doctors cautious, and legitimate prescriptions harder to come by.
Dilaudid is another pharmaceutical drug on the street. Typically prescribed to terminally ill patients with severe pain, the drug comes in one-, two-, three- and four-milligram tablets, Harrison said.
Its price of 10-12 years ago $85-$90 per tab has remained steady, he said, and while agents still see it on the streets, it's not as prevalent as OxyContin.
Other abused pharmaceuticals include Methadone, which is a prescribed maintenance drug to help people shake narcotic addictions, and tranquilizer drugs such as Xanex and Valium.
OxyContin is cheaper on the street than Dilaudid, with the statewide average street value at $20-$25 per tab and agents paying as much as $40 for one locally, Harrison said.
Frank Altieri, acting program manager for the MBN's Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit in Jackson, said when law enforcement officials first encountered the drug in the Northeast in the late 1990s, it sold for $1 per milligram. More is available on the street now, and it sells for 45 cents per milligram or less.
Harrison said pharmaceutical drugs are a bigger problem than people realize.
Fighting the drug for law enforcement officials often means checking pharmaceutical records, monitoring known abusers and relying on tips from pharmacists or doctors. Agents catch many offenders after they've gotten the prescription written, sometimes at the pharmacy as they try to get it filled.
Harrison said a conviction for illegal possession of one dosage unit carries a one- to four-year sentence. A conviction of illegal sale, or possession with intent to sell, can result in a sentence of up to 30 years.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3275, or e-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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