Monday, February 25, 2002

Isle abuse of some
drugs is increasing

Narcotics agents say people are
abusing prescription drugs,
particularly painkillers

By Rosemarie Bernardo

State narcotics agents have noticed a rise in pharmaceutical drug abuse following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to Keith Kamita, administrator of the Narcotics Enforcement Division.

"People are depressed," Kamita said.

Layoffs, financial issues and depression triggered by the attacks have caused a number of isle residents to turn to pharmaceutical drugs to deal with their problems, according to experts.

"Pharmaceutical drugs are stronger than illicit drugs," Kamita said.

As of Feb. 16, 63,069 residents had filed unemployment claims since Sept. 11, thousands of them because they were either laid off or had their hours cut back due to the economic downturn in the wake of the attacks.

Narcotics agents categorized pharmaceutical drug abusers two ways: those who alter or forge a prescription of a controlled substance, and multidoctor patients who go to several physicians to obtain controlled substances for their own use or to sell to others.

Painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Valium are among the drugs being abused the most, with OxyContin showing the biggest jump, Kamita said. The drug, which has a street value of $1 per milligram, is crushed and may either be snorted or injected, resulting in a high similar to heroin, according to Kamita.

"It's (OxyContin) becoming more and more prevalent," said M.P. Andy Anderson, chief executive officer of Hina Mauka, a substance abuse treatment agency.

Kamita said state narcotics agents are able to determine whether a person is suffering from a chronic illness or abusing medication.

If a patient suffers from cancer, a steady number of controlled substances is recorded, he said. However, those who abuse pharmaceutical drugs show an irregular amount of prescribed controlled substances. Narcotics agents also investigate multidoctor patients by consulting with the physicians issuing controlled substances.

Three years ago, a notification and warning agreement was implemented to curtail multidoctor patients. Under the agreement, a patient can obtain controlled substances from only one practitioner.

According to the Hawaii Revised Statutes, it is a felony for a patient to intentionally visit more than one physician and withhold information regarding previous doctor visits for the purpose of obtaining controlled substances. Abuse of a controlled substance is a Class C felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

An electronic monitoring system has been set up at pharmacies statewide that alerts state narcotics agents of an irregular number of controlled substances issued to a person, Kamita said. "For us, that's our first line of defense," he said.

Linda de la Rosa, clinical supervisor of Hina Mauka at the Women's Community Correctional Center, said she suffered from an addiction to Valium and Talwin following a divorce in 1973. She began to drink heavily and take the pain relievers with alcohol. She said she underwent treatment after her co-workers intervened while she was working as a nurse at a New Jersey hospital.

"It was a nurse's mentality that it was not abusing drugs back then. It would be the same as taking Tylenol. We wouldn't think twice about it. Now we do," said de la Rosa, who has been free of drugs and alcohol for 26 years.

She said her own recovery led her to counsel others who have problems with drugs.

"Prescription drug abuse is the sophisticated way of abusing drugs," de la Rosa said.

Of OxyContin, "it's a new choice of drug," she said. A number of overdoses and deaths have resulted from the abuse of the drug, de la Rosa added.

Police psychologist Gloria Neumann said taking any form of drugs is a way for people "to block out what happened."

"People often look for a quick fix. Drugs are often a quick solution, but it doesn't solve the underlying problem," Neumann said.

Hawaii drug abuses

Cases of abuse of controlled substances from Sept. 11 to present:

Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin): 34

Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin): 34

Benzodiazepine (e.g., Valium): 27

Codeine: 16

Cases of abuse of controlled substances from July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001:

Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin): 73

Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin): 39

Benzodiazepine (e.g., Valium): 45

Codeine: 57

If you have information of someone abusing a controlled substance or selling it illegally, call the Narcotics Enforcement Division at 837-8470.

Source: Keith Kamita, administrator of Hawaii's Narcotics Enforcement Division

E-mail to City Desk


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