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State Senator Proposes Banning OxyContin

Oct 5, 2005 |

Westford resident Steward Walton understands the lethal effect of abusing pain killers.

Two of Walton's children died in connection with their addiction to the prescription drug OxyContin.

"They are buried together," said Walton, 59. "I go there (to the cemetery) every day."

Walton's daughter died three years ago at age 34, after she overdosed on heroin which she started using after OxyContin, he said.

Walton's 31-year-old son died eight months later while in rehab for a dependence on OxyContin and cocaine. Walton said medication used to fight the addiction caused his son to develop a large, deadly blood clot.

The question of whether state lawmakers will remove OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, from pharmacy shelves  which is one proposed solution is easy to answer: probably not.

But is unclear how public officials can stem the state's growing problem of addiction to OxyContin and the drug's pharmaceutical cousin, heroin.

"We know there is a significant problem in front of us," said Paul J. Cote, Jr., Acting Commissioner of the state Department of Public Health.

Massachusetts is ranked 11th in the country for consumption of OxyContin, Cote said, and drug abusers typically get the drug from prescription forgery, pharmacy break-ins or doctors selling the drug illegally.

OxyContin hit the market in January 1996, and its manufacturer, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, made $1.7 billion off the drug last year.

The special OxyContin Commission, created by the Legislature in 2004, held its final hearing Tuesday at the State House after traveling to Framingham, Bridgewater, Somerville and Lynn to gather testimony over the past six months.

The group must write and release a report with findings and recommendations on how to curb drug abuse of prescription pain killers, particularly OxyContin.

State Sen. Steven Tolman, D-Brighton, has submitted a bill to ban the drug altogether, characterizing it as a class A drug -- the same classification as heroin.

Tolman said he filed the bill to raise awareness about the problem of OxyContin addiction, but he does not expect the measure to pass.

State Sen. Robert Antonioni, D-Leominster, said he would likely not support a ban on the pain killer.

"It would be unusual to outright ban a medication because it's abused," Antonioni said. "I'll consider (Tolman's) position, but I would be inclined to retain its use for people who need it."

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