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Florida Reports More Deaths From Oxycontin Abuse

Jan 2, 2002

OxyContin killed more drug abusers than either heroin or cocaine in the first 6 months of 2001, Florida officials reported Wednesday.

Illegal use of the drug, a prescription pain reliever, is a ''serious and widespread problem,'' said Jim McDonough, the director of the Florida office of Drug Control.

According to a study by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, overdoses of the drug killed 218 people--compared with 126 deaths from heroin and 183 from cocaine toxicity--in Florida during the first 6 months of 2001.

During all of 2000, 152 deaths in Florida were caused by oxycodone, which likely came from illegal use of OxyContin.

``OxyContin is a very good drug when used for medicinal purposes, but when it is misused, it can be deadly,'' McDonough told Reuters.

OxyContin is a controlled substance in the United States and is prescribed as long-term pain relief for cancer sufferers and others. The pill is designed to release its oxycodone slowly to control the dosage of the powerful narcotic.

But if the pill is chewed or crushed and sniffed, it gives a stronger dose--providing a high but becoming addictive and dangerous.

Users ``find it a tremendous high. If you're a heroin addict, you get a similar high from OxyContin, except it lasts longer,'' McDonough said.

The addictive nature of the drug and the potential for fatal overdoses when used illegally make OxyContin's increasing misuse a concern for local and federal government agencies.

McDonough is pressing Florida lawmakers to pass a bill to monitor prescriptions of OxyContin and make it harder for dealers and users to forge prescriptions. He said there had been numerous reports of OxyContin being stolen from legitimate users and pharmacies.

Purdue Pharma LP, the maker of OxyContin, issued a letter to doctors warning them of the potential misuse of the drug, and the US Food and Drug Administration strengthened the warnings and precautions on OxyContin's labeling last July

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