Doctors held after crackdown on illegal racket in painkillers

Click to follow
The Independent US

US police and drug enforcement officials said yesterday they had uncovered a narcotics racket following the arrest of more than 200 people, including doctors and nurses, involved in the illegal distribution of a powerful painkiller intended for cancer patients.

US police and drug enforcement officials said yesterday they had uncovered a narcotics racket following the arrest of more than 200 people, including doctors and nurses, involved in the illegal distribution of a powerful painkiller intended for cancer patients.

The arrests this week followed months of painstaking undercover work in eastern Kentucky to combat the spread of OxyContin, a drug based on synthetic morphine, which produces effects similar to heroin.

At least 59 people are believed to have died in the area around Lexington as a result of OxyContin overdoses, and the drug is being peddled on the street with increasing frequency throughout the US.

"The abuse and availability of OxyContin has become an epidemic," said Joseph Famularo, the federal prosecutor who has spearheaded the crackdown in Kentucky.

Most of those arrested were street dealers offering Oxy, as it is known, at between $25 and $50 per pill. But they also included a urologist charged with writing illegal prescriptions and a male nurse accused of stealing the drug from the hospital where he worked.

Mr Famularo said it was possible other doctors and pharmacists would be tracked down and arrested.

"Any controlled substance, anything that can be bought for a lesser price and sold for a higher price, there will be a market for it,'' said Douglas Kennedy, a pain control specialist in Lexington who has worked with police to weed out corrupt health professionals. "That's a business, and doctors do get involved.''

OxyContin, introduced in the US 1996 and now distributed in the UK by Napp Pharmaceuticals, is highly addictive when administered without proper supervision. Addicts tend to crush it for snorting, or dilute it and inject it directly into their veins to maximise the hit. When ingested orally, the synthetic morphine is released slowly over 12 to 14 hours.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, eastern Kentucky is the first area where its misuse has hit epidemic proportions. But addicts have also been caught trying to steal the drug in southern Florida, and officials expect the phenomenon to spread.

Some of the illicit users are prescribed the drug regularly but resort to street dealers because their dependency causes them to increase their dosage drastically.

The head of one Kentucky treatment centre, George Scott Walker, said every emergency referral he has had since May has been OxyContin related.

Comments