As Oxycontin abuse spreads, pharmacy robberies rising

Epidemic hits some states notably harder

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Of equal concern is an expansion in the amount of Oxycontin being prescribed legally in Maine. More than 4 million pills were prescribed in 2010, nearly five times the number in 2006, according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

“The pill counts show that the neighborhood drug dealer is peoples’ medicine cabinet,” said Guy Cousins, who heads the agency. “We ask kids in surveys where do they get it, and ‘friends and family’ is the No. 1 answer.”

Maine has a Web-based prescription-monitoring program, which allows doctors to check the prescription history of patients if concerns arise that a medication is being over-prescribed.

According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, 34 states have similar programs, which can help identify people trying to get prescriptions filled repeatedly by different doctors — a tactic police say is often used by addicts and dealers.

But only one state — Nevada — has a law requiring doctors to check the program’s database. Doctors there are required to do so if they have reasonable belief that the patient may be seeking the prescription for nefarious reasons.

There is no such requirement in states such as Maine, where only 35 percent of prescribing doctors have registered to use the program, Mr. Cousins said.

It’s a situation that doesn’t sit with well with local police, who say a key to the problem is crafty addicts and dealers who prey on errant doctors willing to over-prescribe the drug.

“We’ve had one individual who had a prescription of Oxycontin filled by three different doctors,” Chief Beaupre said. “I don’t want to say it’s like candy, but that’s about how this is being treated.”

But Mr. Cousins and Chief Beaupre cautioned against blaming the problem on a single cause.

“There’s a whole lot to this story; it’s like spaghetti sauce,” the chief said. “As far as most people are concerned, it’s just marinara sauce, but we’re looking at all the ingredients that go into it, the onions and the garlic.”

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