Diversion of Oxycontin
Since pharmaceuticals containing oxycodone are controlled substances requiring a prescription, a variety of illegal techniques are used to obtain the drug. Pharmacy diversion, dishonest physicians, “doctor shopping,” fraudulent prescriptions, and robbery all contribute to the presence of diverted pharmaceuticals on the illicit market.
Physicians and Pharmacists – The Major Sources
Illegal acts by physicians and pharmacists are the primary sources of diverted pharmaceuticals available on the illicit market. In many cases, they create fraudulent prescriptions to obtain the drug for personal use or to provide associates with a supply of the drug for distribution purposes. To date, many physicians, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians who have been illegally prescribing or diverting the narcotic OxyContin have been identified or arrested throughout the United States.
- Illinois – A physician in Herrin was arrested in February 2001 for obtaining OxyContin via fraudulent prescriptions. The physician would write a 30-tablet OxyContin prescription for a patient and subsequently meet at the individual’s residence. The physician would then show the individual how to administer the drug for the first time. During the visit, the doctor would mix a solution of two crushed tablets, inject the patient with the mixture, and leave the remaining tablets with the individual. The physician obtained OxyContin by picking up prescriptions under false names.
- Nevada – In February 2000, a registered pharmacist in Nevada was arrested after attempting to order Schedule II narcotics from various pharmacies and drug distributors. The pharmacist admitted to using forged prescriptions to illegally obtain approximately 18,000 dosage units of Schedule II narcotics, including OxyContin, from pharmacies in the Las Vegas area.
One of the most popular ways to obtain prescription narcotics is through “doctor shopping.” Individuals with real or fabricated ailments visit numerous doctors in an attempt to obtain prescription narcotics like OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan. In many cases, certain physicians have earned reputations among abusers for easily dispensing prescriptions. An individual may obtain many prescriptions in a short period of time and get them filled at various pharmacies for personal use and/or distribution.
- Arizona – A recent investigation in Tucson recently arrested an individual who took advantage of a severe medical condition to obtain legitimate prescriptions for OxyContin and other oxycodone products from physicians in Arizona and California. The prescriptions were filled at different retail pharmacies to bypass dispensing regulations. The tablets, approximately 8,000 to 9,000 over the course of a year, were sent via FedEx to another individual in Maryland for distribution.
Robberies, Burglaries, and Thefts
With the abuse of OxyContin on the rise, law enforcement authorities throughout the United States are reporting an increase in the number of burglaries, thefts, and robberies of pharmacies and residences. According to authorities, homes are being robbed and individuals are being targeted for their supplies of OxyContin. In some pharmacy thefts, only OxyContin is stolen.
From 2000 to mid-2001, the greatest number of OxyContin pharmacy thefts occurred in Pennsylvania followed by Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and Georgia. Employees of the Purdue Pharma L.P. manufacturing section have also been arrested for stealing large amounts of OxyContin.
- Virginia – According to the Virginia State Police, a pharmacy in Fairfax County reported the theft of approximately $12,000 worth of OxyContin early in 2001.
- Maine – In Portland, two armed men broke into an apartment and stole the tenant’s legitimate supply of OxyContin. In the town of Millinocket, intruders broke into an elderly couple’s home to steal their supply of OxyContin. The intruders fled without the OxyContin after the couple put up a struggle.
- Massachusetts – On January 7, 2002, the Cliff House Nursing Home in Winthrop was robbed by 2 armed men who held 6 nurses and 40 patients at gunpoint while demanding all of their OxyContin. The armed men took an undisclosed amount of OxyContin without inflicting any injury.
- New Jersey – On June 28, 2001, two employees of Purdue Pharma L.P. from the Totowa manufacturing section were arrested after stealing over 2,000 dosage units of 10-, 40-, and 80-mg forms of OxyContin.
- Pennsylvania – In January 2000, over $1,200 worth of OxyContin was stolen from a pharmacy in Geistown. The individual walked into the pharmacy, gestured as if he had a gun, and forced the pharmacist to hand over six bottles of OxyContin before fleeing.
Illicit Internet Distribution
Internet websites are potential sources for the diversion of prescription narcotics and other pharmaceutically controlled substances. Websites designed to facilitate the distribution of illicit drugs and diverted pharmaceuticals, including OxyContin, are becoming increasingly popular with illicit drug dealers. These sites allow dealers or individual users to place orders for drugs and pharmaceuticals, and sometimes use encryption software to thwart law enforcement investigations.
The profit margin associated with the illicit sale of OxyContin is enormous. Legitimate prices for OxyContin generally range from $.09 to $.13 per milligram compared to illicit prices of up to $1 per milligram. For example, an 80-mg tablet that costs approximately $7 to $8 in a pharmacy can sell for between $50 and $80 illicitly. Therefore, a 100-tablet bottle of 80-mg strength OxyContin purchased legally for approximately $750 can sell for $5,000 to $8,000 illicitly. Law enforcement reporting indicates that the most commonly diverted dosages of OxyContin are the 40-mg and 80-mg varieties.
OXYCONTIN: Price per tablet Dosage 10-mg 20-mg 40-mg 80-mg 160-mg
Licit Retail $1.30 $2.35 $3.75 $7.60 $14.00 Illicit Retail $5 - $12 $10 - $20 $30 - $40 $50 - $80 $60 - $160 Sources: Federal, state, local law enforcement authorities and pharmacists
OxyContin abuse and diversion will continue to spread throughout the United States. The popularity of OxyContin and oxycodone-related pharmaceuticals, coupled with large profit margins from the illicit market, increases the probability of future abuse and crimes associated with the drug. OxyContin abuse and diversion will continue to pose a significant problem for law enforcement authorities throughout the United States.