Panel works to inform OxyContin users of dangers

Posted: Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Statistics reveal that the abuse of the prescription narcotic OxyContin warrants real concern on the Kenai Peninsula and throughout the country. It is not a problem that is going without action.

A panel of community doctors, pharmacists, religious leaders, social workers and others involved in the medical field convened in the fall of 2001 to pool their resources and expertise so something could be done about the prevalence of OxyContin abuse on the peninsula.

Nationally, OxyContin also has been under scrutiny. The weekly magazine, Newsweek, featured a story about helpful and harmful aspects of the drug, and a Florida doctor who made headlines when he was convicted of four counts of murder for deaths related to OxyContin he had overprescribed his patients.

As the drug was revealed to have significant addictive qualities, the federal Food and Drug Administration strengthened requirements of OxyContin's manufacturer. Sales for the Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma have increased 1,800 percent since the FDA approved OxyContin in 1996.

As of July 2001, the FDA now requires an addition to the drug's label warning doctors and patients of its addictive potential similar to other opioid agonists, such as morphine. The new label also cautions against consuming a broken or crushed pill.

Additionally, a substantial insert explaining every aspect of the drug in both beneficial and addictive terms is now included with every package distributed by the company.

While these regulations are reaching the peninsula, there also is an effort on the part of the panel to inform patients and physicians to affect change throughout the community.

They created a pain contract. Meant to be signed by both the patient and the physician, it is in a sense an honor agreement that the patient only will fill a prescription at a designated pharmacy and that the drug only will be used to alleviate real physical pain.

Still, federal confidentiality laws restrict the extent to which this contract can be distributed. Therefore, it only is effective if the patient honors it.

So, the panel is looking to legislation and education to bring the rising consumption of OxyContin to a halt. Panel members are putting informational signs up in pharmacies that also advertise treatment options. Area Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programs also are being updated to include information about the drug.

To have a role in combating the issue, people can approach legislators about cuts in the budget for money that generally funds prevention and treatment programs, said Sue Caswell, director of the chemical dependency resident treatment center Serenity House.

"These programs are chronically underfunded," she said.

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