Abuse of the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin has reached epidemic proportions that experts compare to crack cocaine addiction, Stateline.org reports. “[Florida] is seeing five deaths a day,” said the state's drug chief, James McDonough, adding that OxyContin abuse surpasses heroin and cocaine and has become “an epidemic of enormous proportions.”
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has asked a task force to investigate the extent of OxyContin abuse, and state Sen. Burt Saunders introduced legislation that would establish a monitoring system allowing state health officials to track prescriptions. The electronic system would have a built-in watchdog component that alerts authorities when doctors over-prescribe the medication or when patients appear to be “doctor shopping” for physicians willing to prescribe powerful painkillers. Florida would require two doctors to sign off on a prescription before a patient is allowed to use OxyContin. “I think we are light years ahead of the game in this fight,” said McDonough, director of Florida's Office of Drug Policy.
Fifteen states have similar electronic monitoring programs in place, said Stephanie Wasserman of the National Conference of State Legislatures. They are California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Connecticut and Maryland have bills pending to establish monitoring programs.
Maine, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have imposed stiffer penalties for those illegally selling prescription drugs.
OxyContin has been hailed as an effective pain reliever by doctors and chronic pain sufferers. Its 12-hour time-release formula makes one pill last all day. This makes OxyContin the preferred drug of misuse, and abusers chew, snort, dissolve and inject the drug into their bloodstreams for a powerful high similar to heroin.
Reports linked 573 deaths in 2001 and 2002 to oxycodone overdoses in Florida, surpassing the number of deaths caused by heroin.