Legislators in Massachusetts are considering an outright ban on the popular narcotic pain reliever Oxycontin. While the prescription drug manufactured by Purdue Pharma has proven effective in the relief of chronic severe pain, it has also become a favorite of drug users and has been linked to numerous overdose deaths, drug store robberies, and prescription drug diversion.
"The committee is definitely reviewing a proposal to ban Oxycontin because of the devastating effects it is having on our society," Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee co-chair Sen. Steven Tolman (D-Brighton) told the Boston Herald.
"If I had my way, I would ban it tomorrow," added Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston), "and maybe we can. We're certainly going to look at it."
In addition to problems of overdoses and addiction, part of the reason for the legislative uproar is a drug prevention campaign produced by Purdue Pharma. Targeting middle-schoolers, the company's "Painfully Obvious" campaign featured a bizarre poster that had solons scratching their heads. "Scalding hot bacon fat should not be used as aftershave," read the poster, "and explosive diarrhea caused by prescription drug abuse ruins pants."
"This is the worst rubbish I've seen in my life," Tolman told Purdue Pharma representative Allan Must at a Tuesday hearing.
"Why don't you have a mother and father standing over a grave?" asked Wallace. "Say this is what's going to happen if you take Oxycontin."
But Purdue Pharma's Must understandably declined to trash his company's product that way. Instead, he argued, if taken properly, Oxycontin provides a clear service for patients with AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. "In bills dealing with the illegal abuse of this medication, we have to make sure that we don't do things that are not going to allow legitimate chronic pain patients not to get their medication," Must said.
Must got some support from committee members, including House substance abuse committee chair Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton). "We have to maintain access for people who have legitimate medical reasons," she said.
Proponents of the Oxycontin ban did not address what would happen to patients who are legitimately using the drug. A legislative task force on Oxycontin is set to hold further hearings May 23 at Framingham State College.