Los Angeles Times Looks at OxyContin in Rural Maine
The Los Angeles Times today reports on the OxyContin "epidemic" in Washington County, Maine, where prosecutions for crimes involving the drug have jumped "tenfold" since 1998. OxyContin, a prescription medication used primarily by people with cancer and others with "severe, constant pain," contains a synthetic, time-released morphine. Illegal users either crush the pills and snort them or dilute and then inject them. Federal officials say that the drug has "swept" into rural areas, since heroin is "cheap and plentiful" in urban areas. Among Washington County's 35,000 residents, local officials say there are at least 1,000 OxyContin addicts. Since injection is a common way to abuse the drug, hepatitis C rates in the county are twice that of the rest of Maine. The Times reports that the "social toll" in the county is "immeasurable," as "families are falling apart" and law enforcement and health systems are "stretched to their limits." Jay McCloskey, a former U.S. Attorney who now works as a consultant for Purdue-Pharma, the drug's producer, said, "I believe [OxyContin abuse] has become the greatest criminal problem and possibly the greatest social problem facing Maine." To address the problem, Purdue-Pharma has launched an education campaign in New England for doctors and is also working to develop an "abuse-proof" version of the drug. Washington County Sheriff Joe Tibbetts, said, "What we need more than anything else is rehabilitation. A 6-by-10 cell with a doctor coming out every once in a while, that's just hell" (Mehren, Los Angeles Times, 10/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.