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Battle to stop illegal distribution of OxyContin continues

| Monday, March 19, 2001

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is working hard to stop the illegal distribution of OxyContin in the street and is targeting doctors and pharmacists.

The DEA, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney General's office, implemented an organized crime drug enforcement task force in Cambria County and Ebensburg, the areas intelligence workers feel the drugs are being prescribed far too often, according to Dennis Johnson of the DEA in Pittsburgh.

Johnson said the task force was put together 15 months ago and added that 40 arrests have been made in the past six months.

And while Johnson said that Fayette County has had ongoing investigations with physicians and pharmacists who allegedly write and fill an enormous amount of prescriptions for Percodans, Vicodans, Percocets and Tylox, he could not comment on any investigation into OxyContin.

'I can't comment on whether or not there's an ongoing investigation in Fayette County, but I can say that we're currently conducting a number of criminal investigations which deal with OxyContin diversion.'

Johnson explained that Fayette residents are seeking the drug and added that some are traveling to obtain it.

'We think that some of these individuals are traveling out of the area to get the OxyContin and then reselling it in the Fayette County area,' Johnson said.

And while the DEA has been focusing on physicians and pharmacists to try and conquer the problem, sometimes they have to start with the small-time dealers in the streets to get their investigation rolling.

'Sometimes you just have to go backwards. We usually go right after the doctors or pharmacists, but it doesn't always work that way,' he explained.

Det. Lt. Thomas Cesario, of the Connellsville City Police Department, said that several seizures of OxyContin have occurred in Connellsville.

'We have one case pending right now where it was used in a syringe,' said Cesario. 'We also have people forging prescriptions and people that get them filled under false pretenses.'

Johnson said the majority of people in Fayette County who abuse the pills also deal them.

'In order for the users to be able to afford to buy these drugs, they also deal them and we have our ways of gathering information about them,' he said.

'Our ways of gathering information rely heavily on street informants and street intelligence when it comes to the street dealers,' he explained.

Another method the DEA utilizes in apprehending the solicitors of the drug is a statewide computer system which compiles information on the pharmacies that order the drugs.

'We prefer to cut it off at this level - directly were it's coming from,' said Johnson.

OxyContin is labeled as 'poor man's heroin' despite the high price it demands at the street level, and the National Drug Intelligence Center released a news bulletin containing an abundance of information in reference to OxyContin.

It reads that the prices of OxyContin in the street are as much as $1 per milligram. Thus, a 40-milligram tablet of OxyContin will sell on the street for $40. The pills range in strength, starting at 10 milligrams and ending at 160 milligrams.

However, OxyContin is inexpensive for individuals covered by health insurance, the bulletin reported.

A pharmacist at Burns Drug Store in Connellsville, who would only comment on the distribution of OxyContin with promised anomie, said 'I can see them targeting the doctors who are writing the prescriptions, but as far as us dispensing them, we're just doing our job.'

The pharmacist added that a lot of pharmacies aren't dispensing the drug because of the havoc that's associated with it, 'but I'm gonna fill it ... If the doctors write the script, we fill it.'

Dr. Paul Dascani of Connellsville doesn't feel the burden for control of the drug is the responsibility of physicians. However, he said that control of the drug should be strict and enforced.

'Some physicians give it to freely, and I think there should be tighter control of the drug,' he said.

Dascani said that physicians know there's a street market for OxyContin but added that they can't determine which patient is the street dealer and which patient is truly in pain.

'How do you (as a physician) decide which patient is really in pain and needs this type of medicine?' he asked.

He added that physicians could be better informed to make prescription decisions if the police departments would provide them with a list of suspected sellers.

'Our main focus is to relieve pain and suffering. We want to keep a person out of pain with the least physically and socially dangerous medicines possible. It's a judgment call,' Dascani said.



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