Friday, February 23, 2001

Task force formed to battle illicit 'Oxy' trade


Patton: Illegal use 'nearly epidemic'

By Jim Hannah, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and the Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky's governor Thursday announced a task force to fight illicit trade in the powerful painkiller OxyContin, as DEA agents in Covington said they came to town looking for crack and also found the powerful narcotic known as “Oxy.”

        “Now more popular than marijuana and cocaine, the illegal use of OxyContin, particularly in eastern Kentucky, has reached nearly epidemic proportions,” said Gov. Paul Patton, as he announced the 15-member task force with Kentucky State Police Commissioner Ishmon F. Burks.

        But the epidemic is evident in Northern Kentucky, too. Kenny Johnson, from the Detroit field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration said his squad developed nine warrants for people — mostly in west Covington — engaged in the distribution of OxyContin. Arrests were made last Friday and Saturday.

        Mr. Johnson said he hadn't heard of OxyContin until his supervisor called him and said he had bought it in Northern Kentucky.

        “It appears right now that it is used heavily in the Kentucky area,” Mr. Johnson said following a news conference announcing a crack cocaine arrest sweep through Covington.

        He said he has talked to a couple of supervisors across the county, especially on the East Coast, and they have not seen a lot of OxyContin.

        The drug has been on the market legally for use in the fight against cancer pain and other debilitating pain for about 1 1/2 years. Law-enforcement officials could be seeing the beginning of a new street drug that will sweep the country, Mr. Johnson said.

        Normally, law-enforcement officials see new drugs appear on the East and West coasts, not in the Midwest and Mr. Johnson said it's puzzling that OxyContin began appearing in this region.

        Part of the plan is to close “storefront clinics” that function as prescription mills, authorities said. Another is to use the state's drug database to spot trends in the prescription and dispensing of OxyContin.

        “We'll get a sense of who's issuing these huge amounts” of the drug, Kentucky State Police Commissioner Ishmon Burks said in a news conference.

        Developed for cancer patients and injury victims, OxyContin is “a good drug gone bad,” Mr. Burks said.

        “It's now a drug of choice, a cheaper drug of choice, a substitute for more expensive cocaine and heroin,” he said.

        Earlier this month, federal and state agents arrested 201 alleged dealers in a two-day crackdown in eastern Kentucky, where the traffic in OxyContin is especially brisk. The deaths of more than 30 people in eastern Kentucky have been attributed to OxyContin in the past year.

        The danger to uninformed users is that OxyContin is a time-released medication, said Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard physician who also is a state senator. Users who do not quickly feel an effect will take a second dose, Dr. Mongiardo said.

        He was among four legislators named to an advisory task force to be led by state police. Among others included were the U.S. attorney's office, Drug Enforcement Administration, Kentucky attorney general and Kentucky prosecutor associations.

        Mr. Burks said pharmacists would be asked to be alert for forged prescriptions and the task force would draw up legislation to assert control over the drug.

        Dr. Mongiardo said poverty must be eliminated before illegal drugs could be eradicated in his region.

        OxyContin abuse “is really a symptom of poverty in eastern Kentucky,” Dr. Mongiardo said. “Drug abuse, as I see it, is an escape from reality. It's also a form of income.”

        Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn.-based manufacturer of the drug, requested a meeting in Frankfort with Attorney General Ben Chandler, the company said in a statement issued Thursday.

        The company said it is working with the medical community and law enforcement agencies on education and prevention efforts.

Agents swoop down on Covington
Covington faces drug trade
- Task force formed to battle illicit 'Oxy' trade
       



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