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What is OxyContin?

By By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
July 14, 2001
OxyContin is a trade name for the generic narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride. It is prescribed for long-term chronic pain.
It is popular with drug abusers because they can bypass the drug's 12-hour time release mechanism for a euphoric rush similar to heroin.
Methods of ingestion vary, but injection is a the most common because it is the quickest means of obtaining the high. The danger lies in the fact that OxyContin is a powerful drug, and bypassing the time release mechanism can kill.
Underestimating the drug's effect
Frank Altieri, acting program manager for the pharmaceutical diversion unit of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said abusers don't realize the dangers.
Six deaths due to OxyContin have been reported in the state, four of them in Picayune. A toxicology report is forthcoming from the state crime lab concerning another Picayune death.
Picayune Police Chief Brenda Smith said her officers started seeing OxyContin abuse about a year ago.
Medical community issues warnings
OxyContin was patented in 1996 by Purdue Pharma L.P. It is an opiate agonist, meaning it relieves pain by acting on receptors in the spinal chord, brain and possibly in the tissues directly.
Percocet, Percodan and Tylox are other brand name oxycodone products but those drugs are only available in five- to 10-milligram tablets. OxyContin is available in much higher doses.
Wal-Mart pharmacist Ron Tucker of Meridian said he refused to stock OxyContin in the highest dosages available, 80 and 160 milligrams. He said deaths began occurring among OxyContin abusers when the higher milligram doses were introduced.
The 160-milligram doses were pulled off the market by the manufacturer about two months ago due to adverse publicity, Tucker said. The tablets are now available in 10-, 20-, 40- and 80-milligram doses.
The Mississippi State Board of Pharmacy published an OxyContin warning in its bulletin this month, making pharmacists aware of its abuse.
Family practice physician Marc Fisher, of Immediate Care Clinic, said he is familiar with OxyContin's properties and abuse.
He said some abusers go from doctor to doctor to obtain prescriptions and the physicians have no way of knowing this is happening.
Altieri agreed.
How to solve the problem
Fisher said prescriptions for controlled substances have to be filled out in triplicate in some states, with a copy going to a state entity that monitors the process. He believes such a system in Mississippi would cut down the number of people who obtain drugs through fraudulent means.
Altieri said a tracking system is needed especially for Schedule II and Schedule III drugs.
As classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Schedule II medication like OxyContin is available only through written prescription with no refills. Schedule III medication is available with a prescription and can only be refilled five times within a six-month period.
Tucker said elaborate tracking systems are appropriate in states with more severe drug trafficking problems, such as New York, California and Florida.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at sgillespie@themeridianstar.com.