Friday, February 09, 2001

OxyContin maker gives $25K

Donation to help fund addiction research

By Walt Schaefer and Ray Schaefer Enquirer Contributor
The Cincinnati Enquirer and Ray Schaefer Enquirer Contributor

        The drug company that makes a highly successful but often abused prescription painkiller is donating $25,000 for pain management and addiction research.

        Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn., company that produces OxyContin, a powerful narcotic that experts say has both revolutionized pain care and become the “heroin of the Midwest,” announced the grant Thursday in Huntington, W.Va.

        The money will fund education and research on the undertreatment of pain in Appalachia, and go to educate the public and doctors about addiction to prescription painkillers.

        The Appalachian Pain Foundation in Huntington received the money Thursday.

        The Cincinnati Enquirer Wednesday reported the growing popularity of “Oxy” or “OC” in the Tristate. Area police have confiscated more than 13,000 doses and made dozens of arrests in the last year. In Eastern Kentucky, more than 200 were arrested Tuesday in connection with the drug, which is legally prescribed for management of severe pain.

        Sgt. Kerry Rowland, commander of the Cincinnati Police Division's Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, was pleased with the drugmaker's decision.

        “I think it is a significant step by (Purdue Pharma) and very positive to see them take some responsibility and work on the (abuse) aspect of the drug. That is a problem with their drug,” he said.

        Jim Heins, a Purdue Pharma executive, said the company planned to award the grant before recent reports of abuse and deaths related to OxyContin.

        “We believe in (the foundation's) mission,” Mr. Heins said. “We've been supporting the foundation since it was formed in 2000.”

        The foundation studies effective treatment of pain and “support(s) law enforcement efforts to take controlled medical substances out of the hands of those who illegally obtain, distribute and abuse them.”

        While also supportive of Purdue Pharma's decision, Dr. Rebecca Bechhold, medical director of Hospice of Cincinnati and an oncologist, said the drug developer “has been demonized in the press to the point that Purdue Pharma has been forced to do (something).”

        “Any time you give money to try to understand and rectify a problem, it is good news,” Dr. Bechhold said. “I think the issue here is not this drug (OxyContin) in particular. It is a much broader issue” regarding pain management and pain management drugs.

        Mr. Heins said the only people in danger of overdosing on OxyContin are those who don't have a prescription for it.

        “It is a sustained-release tablet that is designed to release medication over a 12-hour period,” Mr. Heins said. “People have to crush it to abuse it; they compromise the sustained-release properties. That releases the full dose.”

        To use OxyContin for its intended purpose, “you don't chew it, you dont snort it, you dont shoot it.”

        The drug, introduced in 1995, generated about $600 million in revenue for the company last year. Mr. Heins said the drug was tested on about 6,000 patients before it went to market.

        “In those 6,000 patients, there was not one addiction,” Mr. Heins said.

        Dr. J. David Haddox, Purdue Pharma's senior medical director for health policy, said his company is also educating doctors and pharmacists on how to distinguish patients who need OxyContin from potential abusers.

        Dr. Bechhold said pain drugs are legally prescribed by doctors “to people who need them to feel better, and every one of those drugs (also) is abused” by people for whom they are not prescribed.

        In an earlier interview, Dr. Haddox said independent studies have indicated 43 percent to 46 percent of people surveyed responded that there is someone living in their household with significant chronic pain of some type. While not all of those people would qualify for OxyContin, “the number of people out there abusing drugs is nowhere near the number of people suffering chronic pain” who need help in managing pain.

        According to the Associated Press, over the past year there were 59 deaths by drug overdose in Eastern Kentucky — the heart of the commonwealth's Appalachian culture. But Dr. Rice Leach, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, said he is checking all death certificates to determine which of the deaths were caused by OxyContin abuse.

        “The police investigating may know stuff not on the death certificate,” Dr. Leach said.

        Nonetheless, the focus has centered on Eastern Kentucky, where some cultural stereotypes claim residents are more tolerant of addiction to prescription medications.

        That bothers Herbert Reid, director of the University of Kentucky's Appalachian Center.

        “I'm aware this generalization is often made,” Mr. Reid said. “Statements about this get entangled. What bothered me is that these get involved with stereotypes about Appalachians being fatalists.”
       Jim Hannah contributed to this report.


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