Newsbrief: Oxycontin Not So Deadly, Researchers Find 3/7/03

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During last year's hysteria over Oxycontin, a powerful opioid painkiller linked by various public officials to a rising death toll, the prescription drug was blamed for hundreds of deaths, and fears over its abuse led to police raids and repressive legislation, particularly in Appalachia, where media-savvy law enforcement officials quickly named it "hillbilly heroin." Oxycontin mania has also led pain management physicians to pull back from aggressive Oxycontin treatments for fear of being targeted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But research reported this week in the Los Angeles Times found that Oxycontin taken alone rarely kills. Instead, according to researchers headed by forensic toxicologist Edward J. Cone, "We found that the oxycodone deaths were primarily related to mixing many different kinds of drugs with these opiates. These drugs often have a synergistic effect on each other, and in combination can be a deadly brew."

In an article published in the Journal of Analytic Toxicology (not available online), Cone and associates reviewed the records of 1,243 oxycodone-related cases from medical examiners in 23 states from August 1999 through January 2002. Oxycodone, the primary ingredient in Oxycontin, is also found in other prescription opiates, such as Percodan. Of those cases, only 12 were caused by Oxycontin alone, and 18 were linked to other oxycodone formulations. In almost all cases -- 96.7% -- the victims had at least three other drugs in their systems, most commonly benzodiazepines (tranquilizers such as Valium), alcohol, antidepressants, other narcotics and cocaine.

The findings contrast with those compiled by the DEA last year. In its report, the drug-fighting agency listed Oxycontin as the cause of 146 deaths and suspected in 318 more.

The study was funded by Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, and appeared in the March issue of the Journal of Analytic Toxicology.

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Issue #277, 3/7/03 50 Years for Stealing Videotapes? No Problem, Say Justices -- Supreme Court Upholds California Three-Strikes Law | Medical Marijuana Update: Bill Killed in New Mexico, New Ones Introduced in New York and Rhode Island | Australia: NSW Green Party Drug Platform in Tabloid Exposé Furor as Election Looms | "Seeds of Peace" Released in Brussels as Prelude to Vienna UN Conference | Medical Marijuana Supporters Demonstrate at Fundraiser for Presidential Candidate Howard Dean | Alert: HEA Reform Legislation Re-filed, Needs Your Support | Newsbrief: Swiss Lawmakers Give Okay to Continued Prescription Heroin | Newsbrief: Sweden's Drug Head Calls for Needle Exchange Programs Across Country | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Oxycontin Not So Deadly, Researchers Find | Newsbrief: California Highway Patrol Settles Racial Profiling Lawsuit | Kansas Legislators Consider "Treatment Not Jail" Bill | Newsbrief: In Surprise Move, Judge Changes Mind, Declines to Jail Oakland Cannabis Co-op Head | Newsbrief: Two Suicides Enough for One Pot Bust, Says Wisconsin Judge, Orders Probation for Son of Dead Couple | Media Scan: New York Times, The Economist, The Independent, Washington Times, Change the Climate Ads, HRC Newsletter | Drug War Vigil Film Festival Seeking Submissions | The Reformer's Calendar

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