Local News

Triangle Police, Medicaid Cracking Down On Misuse of Prescription Drug

Posted June 29, 2001 12:04 p.m. EDT

— OxyContin is a prescription pain killer used by chronic pain sufferers and cancer patients. In North Carolina, it is becoming a popular street drug.

OxyContin is the brand name for


. On the street it is known as "the poor man's heroin," "hillbilly heroin" or "OC."

The drug and its use has gotten the attention of local law enforcement officers, like Major Bill Pickard.

Pickard says the big appeal the little pill is its high concentration. Abusers usually crush the pill and snort it to get a one-shot, heroin-like high.

""For instance, [a] 40 milligram tablet is the equivalent of eight Percacet tablets," he says.

Officers across the Triangle are working with the Drug Enforcement Agency. One area they are focusing on is pharmacies, to make sure prescriptions are legitimate.

Durham Pharmacist Bill Burch has seen an increase in OxyContin prescriptions in the last several months.

"It comes in very strong dosage units," he says. "Whether we like it or not, the pharmacist's job is to police the scheduled drugs."

In the last month, officers have arrested two people for trafficking the drug in Durham. The pills can go for as much as $100 each.

Last year in North Carolina, 21 deaths were attributed to the drug. Officers expect that number could go even higher this year.

Pickard says the drug's abusers come from all walks of life.

"It's not just your street people, it's not just your middle class housewife anymore. It's your physicians, health care practitioners and high-level people," he says.

In North Carolina, Medicaid pays out a million dollars a month in Oxycontin prescriptions. Pickard tells WRAL it is likely that more than half of those prescriptions are not legitimate.

Starting July 1, North Carolina's Medicaid program will implement a 34-day supply limit. The state hopes the move will help curb abuse of the drug.