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OxyContin's Trail of Sadness

Dozens share grief of losing loved ones to addictive drug

Mar 31, 2004 | Cape Breton Bureau Many people are grieving the loss of loved ones to the prescription drug OxyContin.

After reading this newspaper's story Saturday about Tanya Grant, a terminally ill cancer patient from Glace Bay who became addicted after her doctor prescribed 380 pills a month for several months in 2002, two dozen people have written in with their own accounts.

Here's what some of them said.

Kay Moretti of California wrote about how her only son, Jason Lancing, 28, died last June after an accidental overdose of OxyContin, prescribed after a motorcycle accident more than two years before.

"My heart goes out to Ms. Grant and I must applaud her bravery in getting herself into a detox, even when her doctor didn't help," she wrote.

"I know the pain, the suffering, the devastation, the ultimate fear of trying to get off this drug after a family doctor so readily writes that prescription, time and time again.

"Of course, in many cases, they are not aware of the harmfully addictive qualities of this drug."

She said that after the first legitimate prescription was given to her son, he became addicted "and began the cycle of devastation, withdrawal, wanting to quit, not having the strength to quit. It was a losing battle."

A writer from Columbus, Ga., who lost his wife, said he was moved after reading the story of Ms. Grant.

"What a very sad story, but it's just another example of the havoc this drug is causing, not only in Canada but the United States as well," Ed Vanicky said in his letter.

"My wife, Mary Joe, died from an accidental OxyContin overdose on July 27, 2000. . . . Please have your readers go to to learn more about this dangerous drug."

According to the website, more than 250 people have died as a result of the drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has linked more than 400 sudden deaths to oxycodone, the powerful opium-based active ingredient in OxyContin.

The drug's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, is facing dozens of lawsuits for allegedly understating the addictive nature of the narcotic, which has been linked to two deaths in this province.

More than a dozen other sudden deaths in the Sydney area in the past year have been connected to prescription drug and alcohol abuse, but Cape Breton Regional Police haven't identified the drugs, despite requests.

"People think that others take this drug because they are drug addicts and do not realize that the dependency starts from a prescription," Graham Tanner said in an e-mail from somewhere in Canada (the province was not identified).

"My 30-year-old nephew died three weeks ago from this drug."

Others wrote from various parts of Nova Scotia, from Vancouver and from elsewhere in the U.S.

Darlene Taylor of Texas said she first heard of the drug after her mother was murdered and her younger sister was stabbed last July 15.

The accused man, who is awaiting trial, is her sister Elizabeth's ex-boyfriend.

"I was allowed in the house two days after the murder, and besides the sickening amount of blood on my mother's bedroom floor throughout the house to my sister's bedroom (I saw) a prescription of OxyContin," she wrote, explaining that she later learned it was her sister who was addicted.

Her sister survived her wounds and started rehabilitation for her addiction, but she was given another prescription after she left detox.

She took a fatal overdose of those pills last Nov. 3.

A meeting was held Tuesday night in Glace Bay, the heart of Cottonland so named for its available drug supply to help inform residents about OxyContin and other prescription drugs being abused in the area.

Cape Breton Regional Police say prescription drug abuse has led to escalating crime - mostly thefts - by addicts desperate to feed their habit.

One OxyContin pill, known as hillbilly heroin for its buzz, sells for up to $80 on the street.

A local task force of police, doctors, pharmacists and provincial officials is trying to address Cape Breton's prescription problem.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons has issued a letter to all Nova Scotia doctors to be very careful in prescribing the addictive painkiller. Officials said doctors, who aren't always streetwise, may inadvertently be causing a problem on the streets of Cape Breton.

Health records show that one in 200 Cape Bretoners received a prescription for the drug in 2002 - three times the rate elsewhere in the province and with greater strengths of oxycodone.

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