Feds refuse to limit production of deadly Oxycodone

"For those of us who devoted our careers to the DEA and drug enforcement, we really love the agency, but you can't love them when they screw up," Haislip said. "You've got to have some kind of principles. "

An epidemic of Oxycodone abuse has struck America in the last decade. The number of emergency room visits stemming from nonmedical abuse of the narcotic prescription painkiller drug rose by 256 percent between 2004 and 2009, according to the U.S. government's Drug Abuse Warning Network.

In Florida, the Medical Examiners Commission found more than 1,500 people died of Oxycodone overdose in 2010, a four-fold increase over the 350 who died in 2005. The supply of Oxycodone, says Jim Hall, director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Substance Abuse at Nova Southeastern University, went "far beyond the legitimate medical need of the state."

The epidemic is not likely to abate soon. The explosion of pain management clinics in Florida, dubbed "pill mills," prompted the state Legislature last year to close a loophole that had allowed physicians to fill Oxy prescriptions on the spot. Authorities say a half-billion doses of Oxycodone and its generic equivalents were distributed in the state during 2009 alone. An unknown number wound up in the hands of "patients" who had come from out of state to have prescriptions filled by multiple pill mills, before driving home to resell the pills on the black market.

Florida is not the only state where Oxycodone is being over-prescribed. The number of pills prescribed in Ohio has risen by 900 percent since 1997, a powerful indicator that the market for pills has become oversaturated.

"There's just no way that there's been a 900 percent increase in pain," says Stacey Frohnapfel-Hasson, chief of communications for Ohio's Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

1,200 percent increase

One of the most disturbing things about the prescription pain pill abuse epidemic is that it could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, if the Drug Enforcement Administration had fulfilled the responsibilities vested in it under federal law.

That's the view of Gene Haislip, who, until his retirement in 1997, spent 17 years as the head of one of the least publicized law enforcement entities in Washington: the DEA's Office of Diversion Control.

"For those of us who devoted our careers to the DEA and drug enforcement, we really love the agency, but you can't love them when they screw up," Haislip said. "You've got to have some kind of principles."

Read the full interview with Guy Taylor from The Tampa Bay Times Sunday, October 30, 2011

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