An Orlando Sentinel series last October about the drug OxyContin used a key statistic incorrectly and overstated the number of overdoses caused solely by oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin and other prescription painkillers, the newspaper said. Citing data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Sentinel said oxycodone overdoses caused 573 deaths in 2001 and 2002. A re-examination of the data and autopsy reports showed that only about a quarter of those deaths were caused solely by oxycodone. In roughly three out of four cases, medical examiners concluded that at least one other drug contributed to the victims’ deaths. The paper said its series “created the misleading impression that most oxycodone overdoses resulted from patients’ taking the drug to relieve pain from medical conditions.”
The Sentinel began re-examining the data this spring after Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, questioned the paper’s methodology and conclusions. The reanalysis showed that oxycodone’s role in drug-abuse deaths is complex, and that the Sentinel had characterized it inaccurately. The records do support the series’ conclusion that oxycodone — available in OxyContin as a long-lasting, powerful narcotic — is involved in a large number of the state’s overdose deaths. “The [law-enforcement] folks would tell you it really is a problem; they’re seeing a lot of oxycodone,” said Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the state’s Medical Examiners Commission.