Thursday, February 07, 2002

New legal wrinkle: OxyContin defense

Assault defendant may blame drug

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A Clearcreek Township father scheduled to go on trial today in Warren County for felonious assault may claim the drug OxyContin caused him to lose control and beat a Springboro football star with a flashlight last July.

        County prosecutors and a lawyer for Dillon Beckwith attempted to work out a plea agreement Wednesday afternoon, but were unable to reach the victim's family to approve it.

        Defense attorney Jon Paul Rion said that if a deal falls through, he will try the case using the defense that his 47-year-old client experienced such serious side-effects from the prescribed painkiller that he lashed out uncontrollably at Dustin Griffen.

        “It's called involuntary intoxication,” Mr. Rion said. “I have two doctors that will state that OxyContin was a main contributor to this offense.”

        If convicted of the felonious assault charges, Mr. Beckwith faces up to eight years in prison.

        Mr. Griffen, a high school senior who was driving Mr. Beckwith's 15-year-old daughter home from the Warren County Fair as a favor to a friend, suffered broken facial bones and required 50 stitches.

        Mr. Griffen, a running back and an All-Mid-Miami-League defensive back, told authorities that Mr. Beckwith hit him on the head and leg with a flashlight after he stopped his car in the driveway of the Beckwith residence on Ohio 48.

        Mr. Rion said Mr. Beckwith had a prescription for 10 milligrams of OxyContin to control his back pain. However, the prescription was mistakenly filled at four times that dose. After Mr. Beckwith complained of experiencing side effects, his doctor changed his prescription to the drug Vicodin, Mr. Rion said.

        On the night of the assault, Mr. Beckwith took a 40-milligram OxyContin tablet after running out of Vicodin, the attorney said.

        He said his experts will testify that OxyContin can cause a series of mental problems, including anxiety, amnesia, agitation, confusion, increased energy and depression.

        According to manufacturer Purdue Pharma's Web site, less than 1 percent of people in clinical trials experienced such problems with the drug, which is used to treat serious chronic pain.

        Company spokesman James Heins said he had never heard of a case where OxyContin was used as a criminal defense.

        “Anything is possible, but it's improbable” that OxyContin would cause someone to lose control and become violent, he said. “In opiate therapy some of the side effects are more likely to include sedation.”

        Mr. Beckwith's defense is not a novel approach. Defendants in the past have blamed prescription drugs such as Prozac and anabolic steroids for violent behavior.

        Such a defense is used to tear away at a prosecutor's burden to prove that a suspect intended to commit the offense, said Martin Pinales, a Cincinnati attorney who is secretary of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

        “Anytime the prosecution can't prove one of the elements of the offense, it's a not guilty,” he said.

        “It's a fascinating defense. To my knowledge these defenses are very, very hard to sell.”


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