Monday, June 04, 2001

Two charged in OxyContin death

Men could get 15 years in prison

The Associated Press

        TAMPA, Fla. — Freshman Matthew Kaminer was one week away from finals at the University of Florida when he had a few drinks, then popped a pill handed to him by a friend. The next day, he was dead.

        Mr. Kaminer was among the first wave of deaths linked to the painkiller OxyContin. Today, two men face manslaughter charges in his death.

        The synthetic morphine, a savior to those in intense pain, has become a killer when abused. More than 120 people nationwide have overdosed on the drug.

        “I know kids experiment with drugs, but this is something differ ent,” said Mr. Kaminer's mother, Lillian. “This is like being handed a loaded gun and not knowing what it is.”

        Authorities nationwide are cracking down on OxyContin abuse, but while hundreds have been charged with illegally prescribing or selling the pills, authorities in Florida have taken the matter further by pursuing manslaughter charges when users die.

        In Mr. Kaminer's April 2000 death, Ying Che “Dan” Lo, a 19-year-old pharmacy student, is accused of swiping a bottle from the drugstore where he worked and giving pills to Naeem Diamond Lakhani, 19, who allegedly gave one to Mr. Kaminer.

        The two were not expected to fight the charges today. They face up to 15 years in prison.

        “There is no way any of these kids had any idea of the potency involved or that it could have resulted in anyone's death or it never would have happened,” said Ben Hutson, Mr. Lo's attorney.

        OxyContin burst onto the national stage this spring with warnings from law enforcement and public health officials about the deadly results of misusing it.

        Last month, drugmaker Purdue Pharma suspended shipments of its largest dose, the 160-milligram tablet, and took steps to make people aware of the dangers of the drug, also known by its generic name, oxycodone.

        When used properly, oxycodone is released slowly into the system. But abusers of the drug grind tablets into powder and snort or inject the drug to produce feelings of euphoria.

        In Mr. Kaminer's case, it wasn't clear whether the dose he received was too large or if it exacerbated other health conditions — diabetes and a heart condition, revealed in the autopsy.

        Mr. Lo's attorney said his client is “just a kid” who is devastated by Mr. Kaminer's death and hopes to spread word of OxyContin's dangers after the criminal charges are resolved.

        “The only thing people can do to gain anything positive out of this is to make it a learning experience for everybody,” Mr. Hutson said.

        Mr. Lakhani's attorney did not return telephone calls seeking comment.


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