Virginia Town's OxyContin Buyers to Be Fingerprinted

  1. Town's OxyContin Buyers to Be Fingerprinted
    Pulaski Pharmacies Plan to Use Invisible-Ink System in Police-Led Battle Against Abuse of Painkiller

    By Josh White
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, July 11, 2001; Page B04

    Patients in the small southwest Virginia town of Pulaski will have to provide fingerprints at the area's six pharmacies to get OxyContin as part of a novel law enforcement effort to curb widespread abuse of the prescription painkiller.

    Pulaski police plan to meet with pharmacists next week to show them how to use a chemical fingerprinting system that employs invisible ink to "sign" documents for authenticity. Patients will be asked to leave their fingerprint signature on prescription papers so police can track cases of fraud.

    Police hope the technology, regularly used to prevent payroll fraud and for cashing checks, will stem the increasing number of fake prescriptions for OxyContin. Police will be able to use the fingerprints to ferret out suspects and link them to illegal transactions.

    The system is not used anywhere else for prescription drugs except Louisiana, where doctors use it for several sensitive narcotics.

    "Anything that will stop the flow onto the streets we'll be happy with," said Detective Marshall Dowdy of the Pulaski police. "This is a seemingly never-ending battle."

    OxyContin, which comes in a time-release pill and is similar to morphine, has emerged as one of the most widely abused drugs throughout Appalachia. It has been linked to at least 43 deaths in southwest Virginia since 1997 and has been blamed for significant rises in crime -- from fraud and theft to violence and murder -- throughout the region.

    Pain patients who rely on OxyContin for relief consider it a miracle drug, but abusers are drawn to the pills' purity and availability. They crush the pills and snort them or inject them for a euphoric, heroin-like high.

    Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn.-based manufacturer of OxyContin, supports the fingerprinting as long as it is applied to all controlled substances and is not limited to OxyContin. Company officials believe singling out OxyContin will simply lead criminals to go to other pharmacies or abuse other potent prescription drugs.

    "Any identification technology that does not discriminate against patients or stigmatize them will be a valuable aid to reduce prescription fraud and aid law enforcement in their investigations," said J. David Haddox, senior medical director for health policy at Purdue Pharma. "There's no question in my mind that there are instances now where patients are being under-treated or quite frankly don't have access to this drug when this drug is what works best for them. And that's an absolute tragedy."

    Pulaski officials said the fingerprinting would begin only with OxyContin prescriptions, but could be expanded later.

    To make the print, a patient swipes an index finger across a pad, picking up an invisible chemical. The patient then places the same finger on a treated paper sticker, which almost immediately displays a blue, smudge-proof print. During investigations, police can scan the print and compare it with local and national databases, as if it had been taken with ink.

    Abuse of OxyContin has been creeping onto the streets of Northern Virginia and has popped up in urban areas across the country. Northern New Jersey and the Boston area have recently seen waves of abuse and crime related to OxyContin, while Florida has experienced a steady rise.

    Pulaski police said they had more than 1,800 drug-related crimes in the first six months of the year -- almost one crime for every five people in the town -- most of which were connected to OxyContin.

    Dowdy, who came up with the idea after seeing a similar system for validating checks at a local grocery store, said the fingerprinting won't be an "end-all solution" to the problem but could make at least a small dent.

    "It's horrible, and I don't know if it can get any worse here," Dowdy said. "We're at least willing to try."

    How is fingerprinting going to stop other people from illegially obtaining this drug??? Prescriptions are usually written for OxyContin only after other narcotics have failed to control a persons pain. How is this drug getting into the mainstream??? People steeling or fraudulently obtaining the med, unscrupulous medical practioners/pharmacists??? Fingerprinting doesn't prevent anyone from taking the pills from original source, once dispensed from pharmacy. How are they going to track the pills, via GPS (global postioning satellite) like they do vechicles??? Only will stigmatize patients in chronic pain more. Karen
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  3. by   Jenny P
    I would imagine that with all of the high tech copying machines there are that the prescriptions can be copied and taken to several pharmacies to get more of the drug. I guess it doesn't bother me to fingerprint the persons who bring in the prescriptions and get the drug, as long as they do this with all of the controlled substances. We were victims of forgery in December (a kid stole 6 checks and forged over $1000 in checks from our account) and it was only due to the fingerprinting that that person was caught. I think that this would help control some of the illegal use of drugs in this country. With ADHD kids, we've had ClassII prescriptions in our house for years and when we sign for these drugs, it is amazing how illegible so many signatures are. At least the fingerprints would be easier to track.
  4. by   Mags
    Hi Karen,

    I'm from england so expect we may view things differently. I can't belive your'e posting! This is such a safe drug - what do they do about other opiates? The people affected most are in the end stage of thier life. I'm pretty sure most of my patients would not want to be fingerprinted just to get adequite pain felief
  5. by   Dplear
    Lucily here in texas we probably have a lower abuse rate for Oxycontin, due to the fact that We require Triplicate scripts still fotr certain narcs like oxycontin and Dilaudid. Reduces the rate of forged scripts. I also remeber while working at MD Anderson Cancer Center getting scripts for pt's for up to 1000 (thousand) of the pills oxycontin They were fopr the people that lived to far from anywhere to get their drugs filled anyplace else or their local pharmacy would refuse to fill them. Some people just do not realize who painful Cancer is.
  6. by   Jenny P
    I hope I didn't give the impression that pain relief isn't important. That should be the main objective of the meds. I was thinking more about and responding to controlling the illegal use and traffic of the drugs.
    The article is about ways to curb the abuse of the drug and the fake prescriptions that that area of the country is having problems with. If a person needs any controlled substance here, they have to sign for it at the pharmacy. And like I said, some of the signatures that I have seen may be just a scribble or even a straight line. I think the fingerprint would help, especially if grocery stores and banks are already using that system in that area. But I also feel that all controlled substances should be signed for in that same manner, not just Oxycontin.
  7. by   NRSKarenRN
    This report from my local paper highlights the problem. Figerprinting would help identify patients who doctor shop to get multiple scripts filled. It WILL NOT prevent the pills from being given to a second party. It WILL LEAD to more physicans limiting the prescribing of the drug to needed individuals, if the rate of RX being written is tracked. If we start fingerprinting in the attempt to control illegal use, it should be done across the board for all schedule II + III narcotics, maybe even extending to having prescribers thumbprint and patients for proof of validation. IN ADDITION, need to educate the public that ALL TIME RELEASED medications have the potential to kill if crushed and then swallowed/inhaled/injected etc. ON THE FIRST DOSE, AND that any RX medication altered in any way may cause death.

    Deaths linked to painkiller raise fear

    OxyContin - a drug used by cancer patients - is increasingly abused. Officials in the region are alarmed.
    By Elisa Ung

    More and more bodies tested in morgues around the Philadelphia region show traces of the chemical found in OxyContin, chilling coroners with the realization that the powerful painkiller, when abused, has become a major people killer as well.

    Chewed, snorted or injected for its heroin-like impact, OxyContin has been on the market since 1996, intended as medicine to ease pain in cancer patients and others. Death reports only now being compiled in the region show the extent of its abuse, with or without other drugs or alcohol.

    The rising death toll of recent months has alarmed coroners and police. Many report younger victims and more cases in the suburbs.

    Most coroners in the region say they began to see deaths rise last year, around the time that police saw OxyContin become a popular street drug. In 1999, oxycodone - the drug's primary ingredient - showed up in 17 bodies in Philadelphia. In 2000, the number rose to 41. In the first six months of this year, tests found the drug in 39 bodies and was the cause of death in 11 of those victims.

    Also alarmed are patients who fear OxyContin hysteria will keep them from getting needed pain medication.

    "In the area of prescription drugs, it's phenomenally different than anything we've seen as far as the fatality aspect," said Andy Demarest, who investigates controlled substance cases as Pennsylvania senior deputy attorney general. Particularly troublesome, he said, are the increasing reports of first-time abusers who chew only one of the time-release pills and succumb to the rush when the entire 12-hour dosage is released.

    "Here you don't have to take 20 Vicodan to die, just the one OxyContin pill," Demarest said.

    In Delaware County, oxycodone-related deaths rose so sharply in the last 18 months that county officials have made awareness a priority public-health issue. And in Philadelphia, legislators have called for public hearings because of the dramatic increase in oxycodone-related deaths.

    Philadelphia Police Inspector Jerry Daley described the increase as particularly alarming. "It's going up at a tremendous rate that would cause anyone to look at it and say, 'Hey, what's going on?' " he said.

    A federal survey shows the eight-county Philadelphia region's 115 oxycodone-related deaths from 1997 to 1999 led the nation for all three years - but authorities are uncertain whether the distinction reflects the country's worst problem or its best reporting of the statistics.

    Philadelphia's oxycodone death toll, like the nation's, still pales compared to deaths from heroin and cocaine, officials are quick to point out. They don't hesitate to blame OxyContin for the recent, sharp fatality increases - not other, weaker oxycodone brands such as Percodan, Percocet and Tylox. Percodan and Percocet contain 4 to 5 milligrams of oxycodone, while OxyContin has 10 to 160.

    "This drug [oxycodone] has been in use for 80 years," said Guy V. Purnell, chief toxicologist in the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office. "The controlled release has not been. It's that elevated dosage that's killing them."

    In Delaware County, the sudden rise in deaths - from five in 1999 to 17 in 2000 - shocked coroner Fredric Hellman, who during an autopsy found four 40-mg OxyContin pills in a victim's stomach.

    "When you see two deaths, three deaths, five deaths and then - 17 deaths!" Hellman said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize it's the OxyContin."

    Delaware County's oxycodone victims were mostly middle-aged white men, but authorities believe the drug - known as "Oxy" or "OC" on the street - is flowing among teenagers. District Attorney Patrick Meehan fears OxyContin may be a gateway to heroin use.

    "There's the perception," Meehan said, "that because it's a manufactured drug, it's somehow not as dangerous as an illegal drug."

    OxyContin is blamed for the deaths of at least six people, four of them teenagers, in Philadelphia's Fishtown, Port Richmond and Kensington neighborhoods in recent months.

    The only New Jersey county in the Philadelphia region reporting any oxycodone deaths in the last two years is Burlington, with a single victim. But authorities say the problem extends far beyond the city and is acute in many rural areas.

    Eleven years ago, former Southwest Philadelphia resident Louise Morton moved her six children to the tiny Pennsylvania town of Noxen, in Wyoming County, to escape Philadelphia's drugs and crime. It didn't work.

    On April 29, her son, Nick, 21, a construction worker with an engaging smile, died after drinking and taking OxyContin he had bought on the street. Morton said she was stunned to learn her son was an abuser.

    "He was in an Easter play," she said. "He went to church. I had no suspicions whatsoever. If he knew it would kill him, he wouldn't have taken that pill."

    The Pennsylvania Medical Society this week called the increasing abuse of OxyContin "alarming" but emphasized its support of the drug for legitimate patients, chronic-pain sufferers.

    Among those concerned is Michael H. Levy, director of the pain-management center at Fox Chase Cancer Center, who fears that his patients will choose to suffer rather than take painkillers that might be addictive.

    "OxyContin is probably one of the best drugs we've seen in the past 10 years and really helps these patients," Levy said. He cited the drug's long hours of effectiveness and fewer side effects than other painkillers.

    But Levy says his OxyContin patients are so aggressively questioned at pharmacies that filling their prescriptions becomes an ordeal.

    Purdue Pharma, the drug's manufacturer, says it wants to prevent OxyContin from getting into the hands of abusers. The company pulled its strongest 160-mg OxyContin pills off the market in May and issued tamper-proof prescription pads, which resist copying and scanning. About 240 doctors in Pennsylvania use them.

    Demarest said the state Attorney General's Office was replacing its tedious manual system with computerized tracking to audit prescriptions from doctors to pharmacies. That should allow quicker tracking of abusers who "doctor-shop" for prescriptions, he said.
    Elisa Ung's e-mail address is
    Inquirer staff writer Ralph Vigoda contributed to this article.
  8. by   Charles S. Smith, RN, MS
    This type of drug abuse has been particularly onerous in Virginia, especially the SouthWest, but is occurring all over the state. Abusers are taking the drug, crushing it and smoking or injesting all at once...with obvious results. The ACLU has launched a campaign here against the fingerprinting issue as a violation of Constitutional rights. It should be interesting to follow their logic through the courts. Originally there were MDs prescribing the drug without any care as to the consequence. I believe that certain MDs have been negatively sanctioned by the Board of Medicine or are in process.

  9. by   minurse
    has anyone experienced a death in the hospital using this drug?
    I know for a fact that it has been crushed and given down PEG tubes in the hospital I work. I have copied the articles here and will present them in the morning to pharmacy and unit manager and staff nurses working. I THINK WE HAD A DEATH.
  10. by   mustangsheba
    The areas in which I have worked always have a list of medications that cannot be crushed. Why would anyone put Oxycontin through a PEG when there are cheaper suspensions? This is one of those problems that will make the many suffer for the transgressions of the few. Additionally, this situation has driven up the cost of Oxycontin to the point where it is prohibitively expensive to provide for pain sufferers with inadequate insurance or who are on disability.