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OxyContin Diversion and Abuse
January 2001

Related Criminal Activity
and Diversion

OxyContin abuse has led to an increased number of pharmacy robberies, thefts, shoplifting incidents, and health care fraud incidents, as illustrated by the following:

Maine-In June 2000, the Bangor Daily News reported the arrest of an individual charged with selling approximately $8,000 worth of OxyContin weekly. The OxyContin was prescribed to the individual's wife to control cancer-related pain. The husband illegally diverted some of the pills, which allegedly were paid for by Medicaid, for a substantial profit.

Maine-In August 2000, the Portland Press Herald reported that law enforcement authorities dismantled a drug ring accused of obtaining OxyContin by forging prescriptions, having them filled at pharmacies in southern Maine and New Hampshire, and covering the costs with their Medicaid cards.

Ohio-A heroin addict who learned about OxyContin at a methadone clinic committed at least seven aggravated robberies in early 2000 attempting to finance his 800-mg-a-day OxyContin habit.

Pennsylvania-The Cambria County Drug Task Force views prescription fraud as the fastest growing crime in Cambria County; an increase in the number of pharmacy burglaries in the county is directly related to OxyContin abuse. For example, on January 1, 2001, a robber stole more than $1,000 worth of OxyContin from a local pharmacy.

Pennsylvania-In December 2000, the Pennsylvania State Police reported an attempted armed robbery at a pharmacy in Clearfield County, where the suspect sought OxyContin.

Virginia-The Police Chief in Pulaski reported in October 2000 that approximately 90 percent of all thefts, burglaries, and shoplifting incidents in the area were linked to the OxyContin trade.

Virginia-Prosecutors in Tazewell County reported in October 2000 that more than 150 people have been charged with felonies associated with OxyContin abuse. Since February 1999, thieves reportedly demanded only OxyContin in at least 10 pharmacy robberies. The high number of robberies prompted some pharmacies in Tazewell County to discontinue selling OxyContin and post signs stating they no longer would carry the drug.

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Drugs such as OxyContin are diverted in a variety of ways including pharmacy diversion, "doctor shopping," and improper prescribing practices by physicians. Pharmacy diversion occurs when individuals working in pharmacies take products directly from the shelves, or when people make fraudulent prescriptions. Two pharmacists in Mercer County, West Virginia, were charged in September 2000 with illegally obtaining pain relieving hydrocodone pills. They allegedly took the pills directly off the pharmacy shelves and created fraudulent prescriptions. They then traded the drugs for sexual favors.

The most widely used diversion technique at the street level is doctor shopping. Individuals, who may or may not have a legitimate ailment requiring a doctor's prescription for controlled substances, visit numerous doctors, sometimes in several states, to acquire large amounts of controlled substances they abuse or sell to others. This problem is pronounced in southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia.

Improper prescribing practices by unscrupulous physicians are another way of diverting pharmaceuticals, according to law enforcement sources surveyed by the NDIC. For example, a White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, physician was sentenced on October 24, 2000, and will spend more than 2 years in federal prison for Medicaid fraud and for dispensing prescription sedatives and painkillers in exchange for sex. Also in October 2000, a Grundy, Virginia, physician was arrested and charged with 79 counts of illegally dispensing prescription drugs, including OxyContin.

The abuse of OxyContin, as with the abuse of most prescription drugs, creates a cycle of health care fraud. For example, a corrupt physician writes a patient a prescription for a pain reliever for a nonexistent injury. The physician bills the insurance company for that, and subsequent, visits. The patient uses a portion of the prescribed pills and sells the rest for a substantial profit. This type of health care fraud is quite prominent in West Virginia, where the Huntington Drug and Violent Crime Task Force reports "there are too many doctors (in West Virginia) supplementing their income by writing improper prescriptions."


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