Wednesday, March 07, 2001

OxyContin still booming, police say


Drug abuse cuts across categories

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — In the wake of a recent DEA crackdown on the illicit trade of OxyContin in Covington, Northern Kentucky police describe the growth in the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs as “phenomenal.”

        “I have never seen anything take off like this,” said Boone County Police Detective Paula Redman. A former paramedic, Ms. Redman primarily investigates pharmaceutical crimes with the multijurisdictional Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.

STRIKE FORCE
   The multijurisdictional group was created in 1974 to investigate drug crimes in Northern Kentucky. Federal grants pay for much of its operations. Members include Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties' police departments.
        Detective Redman's work led to the prosecution of 15 people across Northern Kentucky in 2000. That doesn't include other cases investigated by the strike force, such as trafficking. In Boone County alone, the strike force investigated 15,000 prescription pills that were diverted for illegal use in 1999.

        More complete statistics for the area are not available.

        Law enforcement personnel — both on the Northern Kentucky Task Force and with the Drug Enforcement Administration — are puzzled about why prescription drug abuse has increased.

        Detective Redman said there isn't a typical pharmaceutical abuser. She said they come from every economic group, age and profession.

        “When I first started doing this, I was able to stay right on top of pharmaceutical crimes,” she said. “Now I'm just scrambling. It has just really taken over.”

        Last month, a traveling force of federal drug enforcement agents swept through Covington, arresting nine people and charging them with illegally selling OxyContin, a prescription painkiller. More than 200 alleged dealers were arrested in a two-day crackdown in eastern Kentucky.

        The most abused drugs on Northern Kentucky streets are OxyContin, hydrocodone (which includes Vicodin) and Xanax.

        Detective Redman said OxyContin is the most difficult of the three to obtain on the street. It sells for $1 per milligram and is typically sold in 40 milligram doses, so one pill can cost $40. Pain reliever Vicodin — a class of hydrocodone prescribed to relieve pain — sells for $5-$7 per pill. And Xanax, prescribed for anxiety disorders, sells for $2-$2.50 per pill. The pills are discounted when sold in mass quantities.

        Detective Redman thinks the task force is in a unique position to combat the crime. She said pharmaceutical crimes often stretch across jurisdictions, which is not a problem for the task force that covers Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

        “The task force has been beefing up their investigations on pharmaceuticals (crimes) over the past three years,” Detective Redman said.

        People who go to multiple doctors to get the same prescription often don't think of themselves as drug abusers, said Boone County police spokesman Lt. Jack Banks.

        He said abusers will say they are taking medicine prescribed by a doctor, despite the fact they might have four prescriptions for the same ailment.

        “We are not out to eliminate specific kinds of prescription medications,” Lt. Banks said. “In today's medical community, no one who has a legitimate need for medicine should suffer any pain. We are looking at the elimination of mass quantities of drugs being prescribed without control.”

       



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