Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Tenn. woman might be first OxyContin victim

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The death of a 29-year-old woman over the weekend may have been the first in the Tristate caused by an overdose of OxyContin, a prescription pain-killer that is being increasingly abused, authorities said Monday.

        Beth Ann Hickman of the Rogersville, Tenn., area, was pronounced dead at Middletown Regional Hospital in Butler County on Saturday, shortly after being found unresponsive at a Warren County residence where she was staying.

  • OxyContin becomes the 'heroin of the Midwest'
  • Physician caught up in OxyContin scheme
  • OxyContin use likely to spread
        The Cincinnati Enquirer, which last week reported growing concerns about OxyContin abuse, had previously found no documented Tristate deaths from it; Ms. Hickman's cause of death won't be known for certain for several weeks.

        A Franklin woman with whom Ms. Hickman had stayed for perhaps only one night had a prescription for OxyContin, which is used to treat the pain from cancer and other illnesses. The woman discovered about 20 of her pills were missing, authorities said.

        Dr. Richard P. Burkhardt, Butler County's coroner, said the preliminary cause of Ms. Hickman's death appeared to be an overdose of OxyContin. Her urine tested positive for opiates, he said.

        However, an autopsy also revealed a blood clot in her lung, Dr. Burkhardt said; he will need test results to determine if Ms. Hickman's body contained lethal levels.

How it works

        OxyContin is a potent narcotic prescribed for people with chronic, severe pain. Its active ingredient, oxycodone, is derived from opium. A patented substance bonds with the oxycodone in OxyContin, and can measure the level of pain-killer in the blood, releasing more or less as needed. Dosages — ranging from 10 to 160 milligrams — typically last 12 hours. The drug has almost no side effects.

        Abusers defeat OxyContin's time-release substance by crushing the pills and snorting them, or by using a special process to extract the oxycodone, then inject it. The result is a quick, intense high, described by some as similar to heroin. It is highly addictive, and overdoses can be fatal.


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