In my last blog I discussed the hypothetical client named “John.” John was prescribed Oxycontin after an on the job injury. Like many clients, he became addicted to this dangerous drug. Here is the story of how that happened.
John’s Portland, Oregon doctor handed out Oxycontin like candy, raising his dosage over time to the maximum of 80 milligrams per dose. John’s doctor eventually realized he was over prescribing and got worried about getting in trouble with the medical board. He prescribed John a month worth of Percocet, a lower dose opiate, and terminated john as a patient. His doctor did not follow the protocol for titration (a gradual reduction in dosage) or refer him to other doctors who could replace the opiate medicines with another, less harmful, drug. John began using heroin and sold heroin to pay for his own habit. He was caught dealing heroin after six months. He had a number of criminal charges and the district attorney is asking for prison. This is a common Oxycontin scenario.
Oxycontin came onto the market in 1995. At that time, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the drug, claimed that this new formulation of oxycodone, was less prone to abuse and that it could be discontinued without withdrawal symptoms. They trained their sales people to make these representations to physicians as they marketed the drug. Because it is a long acting pain reliever, it became a favorite of physicians for the treatment of long term pain caused by cancer and back injuries.
These representations turned out to be false. Oxycontin has an extremely high addiction potential. Withdrawal from long term use of this drug is particularly miserable. Although Purdue Pharma stopped making these representations in 2001, thousands of lives had been affected. Also in 2001, the FDA required a “black box warning” that specifically warned of the drug’s high abuse potential. In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to making these misrepresentation and paid a fine of 634 million dollars. Three high ranking executive at Purdue Pharma also pleaded guilty and paid millions in fines.
Purdue Pharma has made improvements to this drug. They have developed a new formulation that can’t be crushed and injected. It is being phased into the market. Tie will tell if this safety feature can be defeated.
I have seen the effects of this drug first hand. Oxycontin leads to a powerful addiction to opiates. These addicts will do almost anything to acquire opiate drugs. The craving to acquire and use opiates can become more powerful than the drive to eat or sleep.
As a result, I have seen people who commit crimes by forging prescriptions, stealing from their employers, using and selling heroin and even committing robberies to get opiate drugs. The end up being charged with forgery, theft, identity theft and even Measure 11 robbery.
Like John in my hypothetical, as a Portland Measure 11 Defense Attorney, I have seen many people with no prior criminal record or addiction history become addicted to opiates and commit crimes as a result of taking legally prescribed pain medications. Some persons forge or alter prescriptions and get charged with forgery or identity theft. Others turn to heroin and get charged with delivery or possession of a controlled substance. Too many resort to robbery, like John, and get charged with Measure 11 robbery.
Of course, these people are devastated and feel like their lives are over. Fortunately, that is not true. As a Portland Drug Crimes Lawyer, I have helped many persons through the criminal case process and they have been able to keep their positions in society. Almost none of my clients are convicted of Measure 11 crimes.
By James F. O’Rourke Jr.
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