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Oxycontin Abuse Rates Questioned

Audio

Aired 7/23/10

What group in San Diego County seems to be abusing the drug the most? We discuss whether there's a need for a task force to address oxycontin abuse.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Thank you very much, and let us move on. I want to thank everyone for their calls and this great discussion. We’ll bring it all up again. I’m sure it’s not going to go bye-bye. Last Saturday, North County Times reporter Morgan Cook posted an investigative report about the prescription painkiller OxyContin, whose sole ingredient is a synthetic opiate called oxycodone. The report challenged information from county officials that oxycodone use is an epidemic among those under 25. So let’s start, Andrew, with what has been the information we’ve heard so far from the sheriff and the DA and the supervisors.

ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, voiceofsandiego.org): Sure, everybody’s been beating this drum now for months that we have a real crisis with a very serious drug in, you know, amongst our teens, especially our teens. They’ve really been highlighting the teens and then, you know, in the early twenties as well. And due to some just tremendous reporting by Morgan, she went through juvenile courts records, medical examiners’ records and emergency room details and found that there was basically no evidence whatsoever to support this assertion that everybody’s been making. Very interesting. I’m trying to understand the motivation why, if they were just – maybe our leaders were just poorly informed or whatever but, I mean, I think you have the potential to cause a real hysteria about something very important when you go around beating the drum like this without the numbers.

PENNER: Well, absolutely. And especially when you have all these elected officials, the district attorney, the sheriff, the chairperson of the board of supervisors, they’d say things like – Bonnie Dumanis said we’ve got to stop this runaway train. We have teenagers snort, smoke or inject the diluted pills, that was Slater-Price, our chair of the county board of supervisors. And Sheriff Gore saying, it’s being consumed at a really high rate by kids in our community. All right, Ricky, you watch our elected officials, were they sucked into something here?

RICKY YOUNG (Watchdog Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): You know, I share Andrew’s sort of puzzlement over where it all came from. I follow Supervisor Pam Slater-Price on the Twitter and her account was all about this for weeks. And…

PENNER: It was in her State of the County, too.

YOUNG: Yeah, it was a big part of her State of the County address. And, yeah, Morgan did an excellent job of showing that there really isn’t an epidemic here. There hasn’t been a kid died since 2006 as a result of this. But, honestly, what I did not get a good understanding of is why. What, you know, what is the motivation. I wondered, is there a federal grant or something for oxycodone enforcement that they were going after? Or – But I couldn’t determine that, so…

PENNER: Well, I was counting on this erudite panel to come up with a motivation. Are you going to disappoint me? John Warren.

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well, I can give you the motivation. What happened was, between 2004 and 2006 there was 17 oxycodone-related deaths in San Diego County. The sheriff, the law enforcement entities, medical examiner, they all got together and they looked at the statistic and they, in effect, panicked because they felt that this was the beginning of something that had been seen in other jurisdictions. And because it had happened in other places, they wanted to get ahead of it here so that we wouldn’t have more deaths in terms of young people. That was where it came from. And there they found out that they had some misinformation so they’ve renamed the task force in terms of prescription drugs and gone at it differently. But that’s where it started, trying to anticipate an epidemic that really was not there.

PENNER: Okay, let’s hear from Will in Kensington now. Will, I’m glad that you got in just before we’re soon going to be wrapping up. Please make your comment brief.

WILL (Caller, Kensington): Well, I’m really excited how this program is doing a great job of putting out information. I think that our citizenry is vastly misinformed when they listen to, you know, some of the public statements that the District Attorney’s office puts out. And, anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. I think you’re doing a great job on it.

PENNER: You’re welcome. Hey, Will, and we’re going to be actually having an interview with the reporter who did the investigative report tonight at eight o’clock on San Diego Week on KPBS television. If you can’t watch it at eight, we generally repeat it at eleven, that’s on KPBS-TV. That’s a little promotion but I think we really need to hear from her and we’re looking forward to that, so thanks for your call. So here we are now, on the one hand we have one medical examiner said that emerging abuse among young people might be just too new to register in the death records. So here we have, you know, a possibility that it’s happening but nobody’s kept records yet.

DONOHUE: I don’t know, I think Morgan pretty much laid out that there isn’t anything. There isn’t anything in the record right now for us to worry about it. Yes, I suppose we should obviously keep our eyes open and be looking at this but I worked as a reporter in southwest Virginia in Appalachia about a decade ago and this was a problem that was absolutely destroying communities. I mean, this was a problem that was responsible for 90% of the crime in small towns, so this is a very serious thing and if we don’t have the problem then we should be focusing on other things that are real problems here.

PENNER: Okay, with the few seconds we have left, John, I’m going to turn to you on this. Was it a surprise to you that the numbers show that it’s a different user demographic, it’s middle-aged people instead who are using more of this drug, older people, more susceptible to aches and pains.

WARREN: No, it’s not because the age group they identified, 40 to 55, that’s the age group in which we find a great deal of cancer and these drugs are used primarily as a painkiller for cancer patients.

PENNER: Okay, thank you very much. I thank John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint and Andrew Donohue from voiceofsandiego.org and from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ricky Young. I thank our callers and our listeners. This has been the Editors Roundtable, I’m Gloria Penner.

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