Category Archives: Crime

Blast from the past: Purdue’s shady marketing tactics

Though it was written nearly eight years ago, the Government Accountability Office’s report on Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing and promotion of OxyContin is no less shocking today. The company’s nefarious tactics included a patient starter coupon program for OxyContin to provide patients with a free limited-time prescription, promotional videos containing the unsubstantiated claim that opioid analgesics have been shown to cause addiction in less than 1 percent of patients, and several types of branded promotional items, including “OxyContin fishing hats, stuffed plush toys, coffee mugs with heat-activated messages, music compact discs, luggage tags, and pens containing a pullout conversion chart showing physicians how to calculate the dosage to convert a patient to OxyContin from other opioid pain relievers,” according to the report. Indeed, Purdue’s annual spending for OxyContin advertisements increased from about $700,000 in 1996 to about $4.6 million in 2001, the report says.

It’s alarming to read this dated report knowing that four years later, Purdue pled guilty in federal court and paid $634.5 million for its actions. It’s even more alarming that the company continued to market OxyContin in its original formulation and didn’t reformulate the drug until 2010 to supposedly make it less abusable. And it’s pretty sickening to remember, in detail, the lengths pharmaceutical industry is willing to go to in order to boost sales of its products, no matter the human costs.

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$4M prescription drug ring nabbed in Fla.

In an example of just how widespread and lucrative the illegal market for prescription drugs is, authorities in Florida have rounded up 41 of of 72 suspects in the second phase of an investigation known as “Operation No Appointment Necessary.” As a result of the probe, which began in 2010, detectives collected over 4,000 fraudulent prescriptions bearing the names of over 700 different suspects. Investigators estimate more than 400,000 oxycodone 30-milligram tablets were obtained by fraudulent means between October of 2009 and July 2010. A conservative “street value” of these pills is estimated to exceed $4 million, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. And that’s just a drop in the bucket, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Robert Alfonso told the St. Petersburg Times.

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New Oxy leads addicts to Opana, other opiates

Purdue Pharma’s introduction of its new formulation of OxyContin, OP, hasn’t done much to curb the opiate addiction crisis – but is anyone surprised? (The company admitted when it launched OP that “there is no evidence that the reformulation of OxyContin is less subject to misuse, abuse, diversion, overdose or addiction.”) Not only are addicts already figuring out ways to abuse OP – as evidenced by a simple Google search – they’re also increasingly turning to other prescription drugs that contain oxycodone. This is likely why we’ve been hearing more about Percocet 30s and Roxycodone, as well as the painkiller Opana. A recent case out of Minnesota highlights this growing trend, with the Department of Justice stating that Opana abuse “has become increasingly more prevalent since OxyContin, which contains the related opiate oxycodone, was altered to discourage abuse.” And don’t forget about heroin, which is cheaper than prescription opiates and provides the same high. Not exactly the easy fix Purdue was hoping for, is it?

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Pill dealer pleads guilty to murder in OD case

Jeff George, the 30-year-old prescription drug kingpin arrested last week in Florida, has pleaded guilty to felony second-degree murder in the overdose death of Joey Bartolucci, a 24-year-old addict who died in February 2009 after taking hydromorphone and other drugs. Jeff and his brother Chris have been accused of running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, raking in $40 million in two years. Each of their four clinics pulled in up to $50,000 a day, and the brothers sold 20 million pain pills by the time the clinics were shut down, prosecutors have alleged. Fifty-six overdose deaths have been traced to the George clinics.

Sentiment surrounding the George case is split between those who think justice is being served to a drug dealer who showed a callous disregard for human life, and those who say he shouldn’t be held accountable for the actions of a drug addict (read more here).

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Charges rendered in pill overdose cases

When someone overdoses on prescription drugs, it’s often difficult to pursue criminal charges against the individuals involved. But in two recent cases, that’s exactly what happened. In Fernandina Beach, Fla., “mobile drug dealer” Rodney Young Odum has been charged with manslaughter for selling 21-year-old Aaron Douglas the methadone pills that took his life. (The cause of death was multiple drug toxicity, according to the Fernandina Beach Police Department.) And in West Palm Beach, prosecutors have charged Jeff George of felony second-degree murder and a doctor of first-degree murder in the overdose death of Joey Bartolucci, a 24-year-old addict who died in February 2009 after taking hydromorphone and other drugs. Jeff and his brother Chris, both 30, have been accused of running the largest illegal pain clinic network in the country, raking in $40 million in two years.

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Google to pay $500M for online pharmacy ads

Obtaining prescription drugs from rogue pharmacies online just got a little bit harder, with Google Inc. agreeing to forfeit $500 million for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place ads targeting U.S. consumers in search of medicines like OxyContin, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The forfeiture is one of the largest ever in the U.S., the DOJ said. Google, for its part, has acknowledged that it improperly assisted Canadian online pharmacy advertisers and said it has banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies. “It’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place,” the company said in a statement.

Better late than never.

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Florida’s pill problem: not just a southern thing

Florida’s reputation as Pill Central is nothing new, but often the spotlight is on the state’s southern region. It seems the effects of the painkiller addiction epidemic are now being felt in central Florida as well, according to this article. Jails are filling up with prisoners going through withdrawals and the court system is overwhelmed with cases related to prescription drugs, the article says. So far, the Volusia County narcotics unit has confiscated 18,439 pills through the first six months of the year compared to just under 8,000 pills during all of 2010 (more than 80 percent of which were oxycodone), and more than 9,600 people were arrested for drug offenses in 2010 compared to about 6,000 in 2009, the article says.

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Inside the mind of a pharmacy robber

Pharmacy robberies have become a huge problem as the prescription drug epidemic has spread, often with tragic consequences. This article takes us inside the mind of one OxyContin addict who took to robbing pharmacies to get the drugs his body had come to crave.

Read our prior coverage of pharmacy robberies here, or for the perspective of one pharmacist’s wife, go here.

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Fueled by Oxy, Wisc. sees rise in heroin

Police in northeast Wisconsin say they are seeing a dramatic increase in heroin use in wake of the new, supposedly harder-to-abuse version of OxyContin, WBAY.com reports. Authorities in the four-county Lake Winnebago area confiscated 15 to 20 grams of heroin between 2000 and 2009, but found 120 grams in 2010, the article says.

The news comes after the University of Wisconsin’s Pain and Policy Group attracted criticism earlier this year for allegedly receiving millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies, including Oxy manufacturer Purdue Pharma, for pushing for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine, which you can read more about here.

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Black market numbers crunch

Pharmaceutical companies aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of America’s obsession with prescription drugs. The black market for pills is a multi-billion-dollar industry, CNN.com reports. Oxycontin, for example, costs about $6 when sold legally, but garners up to $80 per pill on the street – about $1 a milligram, the news outlet says.

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