Prescription drug abuse epidemic grows in Brevard. Family torn apart by prescription drug abuse – Oxycodone. My thoughts by: Larry Lawton

I read this great article about oxycodone (Read the full article below) written by Dave Berman from the Florida Today newspaper. It is so important and affects so many people, I even posted the second part.

As a man who deals with teen and young adult issues every day. I can attest that prescription drug abuse is the most important issue we face today. I also don’t want to demonize a medicine that helps thousands of people. As a man who has chronic pain and uses medication, I am proof that using medication in the right way can change your life. Without medication I couldn’t function the way I do.

It is all about understanding pain, monitoring the corrupt doctors and putting in place checks and balances. I want to applaud our state for stepping up to the plate and understanding the seriousness of the problem and addressing it. It will take time to get full control of this problem, but Brevard County Sheriff Jack Parker, Sate Attorney Norm Wolfinger and our police chiefs understand it is an addiction issue for the user and a greed issue with the doctors.

Never give up on your loved one because there is a good person under the addiction.

Visit Lawton911 and the Reality Check Program DVD to understand about choices and where a person could end up if they keep making poor choices.

Larry Lawton

Written by

Dave Berman | | FLORIDA TODAY

Pat Sims knows the odds are against her and her three grown children. The children — ages 26, 23 and 22 — all have been addicted to the prescription painkiller oxycodone.

“I have three drug addicts, and I have three chances of one of them dying,” said Sims, a 49-year-old registered nurse who lives in Melbourne. “Because drug addicts die. You know they do.”

Sims’ assessment is on the mark. A drug that is meant to help people deal with pain has instead been torture for a staggering number of families.

In Brevard County, oxycodone killed 243 people from 2006 to 2010, according to Brevard County Medical Examiner’s Office records. The drug was responsible for 77 deaths in 2010, the last year in which complete data has been compiled. That’s triple the death toll from 2006, when 24 deaths were attributed to the painkiller. Moreover, records show oxycodone was present in the bodies of hundreds more people who died, though it was not listed as the primary cause of their deaths.

Lead medical examiner’s investigator Craig Engelson said that when he goes out on a call to investigate a death not involving a shooting, stabbing or vehicle crash, prescription painkillers like oxycodone — also known by the brand name OxyContin — often are involved.

“You can almost guess when you go to the scene” that oxycodone was a factor, he said.

Oxycodone is a valuable drug when used properly, medical experts say, offering relief to people with chronic pain who aren’t helped by other medicines.

But when abused, it grips addicts in a vise they say is almost impossible to loosen. And the drug’s hold causes a cascade of other problems across the community.

Oxycodone is linked to countless crimes, authorities say, as addicts try to steal the pills directly from pharmacies or turn to theft to get money to buy the drug on the black market.

The problem cuts across all social and economic strata, experts say. In Brevard, senior citizens have died of overdoses, as well as those not old enough to legally buy a beer. Among those who have been hooked by the drug are high school dropouts and successful professionals. Last year, a surveillance tape showed a West Melbourne police officer swiping pain pills from the department’s evidence locker

“There is no boundary where it is not there. It’s everywhere,” said Brevard County Sheriff’s Lt. Alex Herrera, who heads the Sheriff’s Office Cape Canaveral Precinct, and has been in the homicide and the Special Investigations Unit that specializes in narcotics cases. “We’re not talking about a plant that is grown in Colombia. It’s so readily available that it is tough to get a grip on. It’s a main focus of the Special Investigations Unit. You can go into any high-income or low-income community, and have addicts or sellers live there. This has really become an epidemic.”

Crime connections

Herrera said law enforcement agencies can do special sweeps aimed at the prescription drug trade, but still not shut down sales entirely.

“It’s like gremlins. You can’t get rid of them,” Herrera said, which is why police agencies have included prescription medications to the list of drug dangers they try to educate school kids about.

The economics of oxycodone makes it attractive for drug dealers. A prescription retails at a pharmacy for the equivalent a few dollars per pill. But the pills can be sold on the street for up to $80 apiece, depending on dosage in the pill, Herrera said.

Even at half that much, “The profit is immense,” Herrera said. “When you can take a pill bottle, and turn the 80 pills to $500, it’s alluring.”

Typically, Herrera said, someone with a real or fake X-ray of an injury walks into several disreputable pain-management clinics that have become prevalent across Florida. The person pays a fee for the office visit in cash, gets prescriptions for oxycodone or similar pain drugs, and picks up the medicine at pharmacies.

Risk of death

Sometimes, a legitimate injury leads to addiction.

“It starts out innocently enough, as they hurt their back, and got a prescription for a pain medication,” Engelson said. “And they wind up here” on the autopsy table at the medical examiner’s office.

He said 95 percent of the oxycodone deaths he sees are accidental, rather than intentional overdoses resulting in suicide.

Engelson said many painkiller abusers find that to get the same impact or euphoria, “They have to take more and more and more, crushing and snorting it,” rather than swallowing it. Some also inject the drug like heroin.

“It’s a quicker, faster high,” Lt. Herrera said.

Brevard County Health Department Director Dr. Heidar Heshmati said, when prescribed and used properly, oxycodone “is an excellent medication for pain. There are so many patients that have chronic pain.”

The problem, he said, is when the drug is abused, particular in combination with other drugs such as an anti-anxiety drug like Xanax and a muscle relaxer like Soma, or in combination with alcohol.

“The body cannot tolerate the combination,” Heshmati said.

Unfair portrayal

Paul Sloan, president of the Florida Society of Pain Management Providers, said he believes pain doctors are being unfairly portrayed by those looking to restrict the sale and use of legitimate medicines.

Sloan said oxycodone is “a very strong medication that can have serious consequences if not taken as prescribed.” He said the 99 percent of people who properly take the drug should not be punished by restricted availability because of the 1 percent who abuse it.

“This is now a war on legitimate pain patients, and it’s just nuts,” Sloan said.

Sloan, whose Venice, Fla.-based organization represents about 100 pain management practices in Florida, said he supports new state regulations providing more oversight of pain clincs.

He believes the new rules helped shut down many so-called “pill mills” that were improperly prescribing pain medications to patients who didn’t need them. He said there were roughly 50 “big players” in Florida, mainly in big cities, abusing the system.

“It’s wrong to use your script pad to make money,” Sloan said.

Sloan also has issues with data from medical examiner’s offices in Florida showing a dramatic rise in oxycodone deaths. Sloan said “everybody has a different standard” in determining cause of death, and the presence of oxycodene in a deceased person does not necessarily mean that was a contributing factor.

“I think the medical examiners are misleading the public,” Sloan said. “I think this is bogus and junk science. This has become a true witch hunt.”

‘Oxy comes first’

Sims, who has been a registered nurse in various capacities for 15 years, doesn’t believe oxycodone should be prescribed at all. Her kids got hooked after one son was prescribed oxycodone because of injuries from a car crash. He shared the pills with his brother and sister.

Sims hopes to prompt a crusade to outlaw the drug after seeing what it’s done to her children and their friends.

Over the years, her children stole cash from her to buy drugs. They’ve taken computers, DVD players, furniture and jewelry from her, selling the stuff for drug money or trading it for drugs. Once, she had to go to a drug dealer’s home to buy back her own laptop. The children used life insurance payouts after their father died to finance their drug habits, and her son hurt in the car crash spent much of that insurance settlement to buy pills.

“The drugs mean more than eating or anything to them,” Sims said. “The drugs just twist their brain so badly. The oxy comes first and everything else comes afterward.”

All three have long criminal records, Sims said.

“My three kids all told me they don’t want this life,” Sims said. “They try and they try and they try” to kick the habit, “but they fail every time.”

A few months ago, Sims got a tattoo on her right calf. “Each day’s a gift, not a given right.” The phrase alludes to the fleeting time she and her children could have together.

SHARPES — Six years ago, Casey Keenan’s brother got into a serious car accident. That day devastated her life.

Keenan, then 16, was a high school sophomore in upstate New York. Her brother was prescribed a form of the painkiller oxycodone during his recovery from his injuries, and decided to share the drug with Casey and her other brother. All three got hooked on the powerful narcotic.

Keenan said she already was abusing alcohol, stemming from her difficulty dealing with the death of her father in 2001 from a heart attack at age 52. Keenan was 12 the time.

“When I did oxycodone, I loved it. It felt so good,” Keenan said. “I just traded addictions.”

Keenan said she and her two older brothers would take risky drives into the high-crime slums of Paterson, N.J., to score drugs from street-corner dealers. Often, it was heroin, because oxycodone wasn’t readily available there at the time, and she felt the two drugs provided a similar high.

When the family moved to Brevard County, Keenan said, she and her brothers discovered that oxycodone was cheaper and more prevalent than it was near their old home.

To finance their drug habit, Keenan said, she and her brothers would shoplift, then return the merchandise to get cash or gift cards that they later would trade for drugs.

“I was so sick, I would hurt somebody for money to get pills,” Keenan said. She also turned to prostitution to support her habit, sometimes stealing money from her customers. Once, she said, she used a fake gun to steal drugs from a dealer.

“Almost every girl I know” has done everything from “panhandling to tricks” to get money for drugs, Keenan said.

Keenan currently is free of drugs. She has no choice.

She is in the Brevard County Jail in Sharpes on charges of oxycodone possession, resisting arrest without violence and violation of probation. It’s the latest of about 20 times she has been in jail for various offenses, all tied to her drug habit in one way or another.

Keenan initially took oxycodone by swallowing it, but eventually started injecting it. Users say that method provides a quicker, more intense high.

“It doesn’t hurt. It’s worth it,” Keenan said, recalling the times she used needles to inject the drug. “You get a rush from it. Once you’re an addict, you’re always going to be an addict.”

Roadblocks to recovery

For those who have abused oxycodone, the road to recovery has many obstacles. Keenan dropped out of high school in the 11th grade, not long after starting to abuse oxycodone.

“Casey never really had a job. She never finished high school. She never had a chance to grow up,” said her mother, Pat Sims, a registered nurse who lives in Melbourne.

Keenan, now 22, is working to get her general equivalency diploma.

Her long-term goal after she is released from jail is to get the training needed to become a drug counselor, helping others who find themselves in a situation like hers.

“I want to get out and do good,” Keenan said.

She said she plans to move out of Florida so she can “stay away from the people and the drugs” that have hurt her and her family.

She knows the dangers from personal experience, and wants to keep off of them after she is released from jail.

“I have a whole bunch of friends that have died,” including at least six people from overdoses, and two who hanged themselves, she said. “And they were all addicted to drugs.”

‘Better off in jail’

For now, though, Keenan said, “Jail is my best rehab, because I can’t get drugs, and I can’t leave.”

Even the potential of prison time for her pending charges is “not the worst thing,” Keenan said, because it will help keep her off drugs, something she hasn’t been able to do for more than two months at a time when she was out of jail.

Sims regularly attends Al-Anon meetings, finding that interacting with family members of other substance abusers helps her.

“I realize this is nothing that I can cure or help, and I realize that this is my life,” Sims said. “It’s heartrending for a mother. It’s really, really heartbreaking. I realize that my kids are better off in jail than out on the street. They are much safer in jail. Once they’re in jail, I sleep better at night.”

Sims and Keenan talk almost every day by phone, but Sims can’t bring herself to visit her daughter in jail, not wanting to see her in that setting.

They view their story as a cautionary tale of sorts for other parents and children caught up in the issue of prescription drug abuse.

“It’s just a horrible and a nasty addiction,” Keenan said. “You’ll end up in jail — or dead.”