- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

Virginia officials expect to use by early next year a computer database to track prescriptions, especially for OxyContin a frequently abused, heroinlike drug that has caused more than 100 deaths nationwide.
The state has applied for a $180,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to create and maintain the database, which police would use to investigate abusers who fake illness to acquire prescriptions and doctors who supply addicts.
The General Assembly this year approved a two-year trial program for the database.
Robert Nebiker, director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which would maintain the database, told the Associated Press his agency is working with a software contractor to create the tracking system.
"I was very surprised and actually very pleased to see how easy it would be," he said.
The department should know by Jan. 1 if the federal government will supply the money. Officials expect the cost for the first two years to be $300,000.
The database would keep track only of Schedule II, or highly addictive drugs, such as OxyContin, morphine and methadone.
According to a Drug Enforcement Administration study in April, OxyContin was suspected of being involved the overdose deaths of 464 persons in two years. Those cases often included other drugs and alcohol.
OxyContin is a narcotic for patients suffering a lasting moderate or severe pain from cancer or other illnesses. A tablet, which is supposed to be swallowed, provides 12 hours of relief. But abusers who chew, inhale or inject the drug get a quick and potentially deadly high.
The database program will focus on southwestern Virginia, where more than 60 people have died from overdoses linked to OxyContin since 1997. A statewide expansion of the program could be in the cards after its two-year trial.
Only police already investigating specific doctors or patients would have access to the database information, allowing the program to avoid doctor-patient privacy issues.
The drug's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, had been trying for about a year to patent an abuse-resistant form of OxyContin when it announced this summer that production was delayed.
The manufacturer thought it could release for sale a type of the addiction-curbing drug by next year but decided to delay that because such a method could block relief for users who are taking the drug for legitimate reasons.
In August 2001, when the company first announced plans to develop the buzz-blocking alternative, a Purdue Pharma spokesman said the company didn't expect the drug to be on the market for three to five years.
The company is now working to develop another method.
OxyContin was introduced in 1996, and the number of prescriptions in the United States soared to nearly 6 million in 2000, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Last year, sales surpassed $1 billion, but it is not clear if that surge is indicative of a legitimate need or of illegal sales of the drug.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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