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Ban-OxyContin petition launched

By Carol Gentry
5/22/2009 © Health News Florida 

An online petition to ban the painkiller OxyContin, launched two weeks ago, has attracted more than 2,000 signatures and is “shooting through the country,” says its author, Clearwater pharmacist Larry Golbom. 

The petition has caught the attention of the American Academy of Pain Management, a non-profit group of health professionals who treat people in pain. The academy’s executive director, Lennie Duensing of St. Petersburg, calls it “very dangerous.”

Already, the petition has been mentioned by a TV station in Denver and a newspaper near Boston. It’s likely to gain more attention next week when Golbom and other anti-OxyContin activists speak at a public meeting being held by the Food and Drug Administration in Maryland. FDA wants to air all views on constraints that should be placed on  "opiods" -- strong painkillers that can be addictive, even deadly, when used improperly.

While all the opiods can be abused, the petition focuses on OxyContin. The potent narcotic has a molecular structure “almost identical to and acts in the body in the same manner as heroin,” the petition says. It calls the drug a “virus that started an epidemic of addiction and death” and calls for the FDA to prohibit its distribution to new patients.

For the thousands who are already taking it, the petition asks FDA to create a “compassionate program” to help them withdraw from the drug and find other ways of treating their pain. 

Golbom, host of the Prescription Addiction Radio Show each Sunday night on a Tampa station, says he plans to publicize the petition's Web address during his allotted five minutes of speaking time at the meeting, which will likely be covered by national reporters. In the past, pharmaceutical interests could drown out ordinary people, Golbom said, but “the landscape of technology has changed things.” 

Apparently so. Neither the FDA press office nor OxyContin's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, had heard about the petition drive on Wednesday, when Health News Florida inquired about it, but now the American Academy of Pain Management and other groups that have an interest in preserving access to the drug are posting information on forums and setting up conference calls. 

Purdue Pharma sent a statement saying it's "very concerned over the illegal use of OxyContin Tablets and other pain medicines." It added. "If OxyContin were unavailable, drug dealers and abusers would simply turn to other pain medications."
"Purdue is highly committed to addressing this issue and is working with healthcare professionals and law enforcement officials to curb the illegal trafficking and abuse of prescription medications, while ensuring that people in pain have access to these medicines when prescribed by their physicians," the statement said.

Duensing said treatment specialists are alarmed. “Chronic pain is the number-one public health problem in the United States,” she said. “There are millions of patients who get their lives back from these medications.” 

She plans to speak at the Maryland hearing, and so does Steve Hayes, director of the Novus Detox Center in New Port Richey, which is co-sponsoring the petition drive. He said he's seen a great many respectable people -- including professionals -- hooked on painkillers, unable to break their dependence or addiction without help. Pressed for time, doctors too often write a prescription to control a patient's symptoms rather than find out the cause, he said.

"It's created too many addicts," he said. 

OxyContin is a long-acting brand-name version of the generic narcotic oxycodone, one of the “opiods.” It was formulated with cancer patients in mind, those who need strong pain control over many hours. However, it can be crushed and turned into an injectable drug that creates an immediate rush akin to that of heroin.

Indeed, some of those who signed the petition made that link, including Catherine Stowe of Brockton, Mass. She wrote: “A close relative of mine began to use OxyContin and within one year he was using heroin and living on the streets…”

OxyContin, she wrote, “has caused infinitely more pain than it has ever relieved.”