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Potential problems loom after powerful painkill discontinued

BELLEVILLE, ONT. (15/03/2012) - Oxycontin was orginially manufactured as a painkiller. Soon later, it was used as an illegal opioid. Canadian manufacturers stopped producing the drug as of March 1. Pills provided by the Belleville Police. Photo by Steph Crosier

By: Steph Crosier

Oxycontin makes you feel numb.

Leonardo Esposito, construction foreman from Toronto had a past addiction with Oxy. Clean for almost a year, Esposito got into the drug just as many people get into the Oxy, experimenting. Esposito bought his Oxycontin from drug dealers.

“Off the street,” said Esposito. “Just guys that I know would have them.”

Esposito tried twice to get off Oxycontin but would eventually relapse. He lost his family and was losing friends fast. Finally on the third try, with the help of a friend, he detoxed and has been clean since. He is now telling his story as much as possible in hopes of helping others.

When he got off Oxycontin though, Esposito did lose friends who are still addicted. He said that he thinks its great that Oxycontin has been discontinued, but his friends aren’t as lucky.

“They’re ******,” said Esposito. “I have friends out there and I’m worried because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I thought about it the other day, and thought wow I’m so lucky I’m not addicted.”

In Belleville, the police and health unit official are also concerned.

There were three ways to get Oxycontin in the Belleville and Quinte area: going to two different doctors, buying someone else’s prescription, or stealing. But with Oxycontin no longer being manufactured in Canada, Belleville police expect problems.

“Oxycontin is an extremely powerful painkiller, and as of March. 1 Oxycontin was no longer be manufactured in Canada,” said Paul VandeGraaf, deputy chief of Belleville police. “It was being used for things it wasn’t made to be used for. So what was happening there are other illegal activities, pharmaceutical robberies, thefts, happening specifically for Oxycontin.”

VandeGraaf said that these subsidiary crimes for Oxycontin abuse are the main focus for the police. He said that the discontinuation of the drug is a positive for law enforcement.

“This step is very positive,” said VandeGraaf. “For the medical side, the medical officers of health, I’m sure will have a different opinion.”

Stephanie McFaul, director of communicable disease at the Hastings and Prince Edward Health Unit, said they have some concerns over the limited amount of Oxycontin.

“There are concerns that if it is no longer going to be available what are people going to turn to?” said McFaul. “So we are concerned that they are going to be turning to other drugs that potentially could have a lot of harm and impact if they should turn over to drugs like heroine, or morphine tablets.”

Trevor Kirby, crisis centre team leader in Belleville, agrees that those who are addicted to Oxycontin may get creative to get their high.

“The may ban it in Canada but I don’t think that’ll stop them from smuggling it in,” said Kirby. “Either that or they’ll find a bright chemist who can make something else that can suit their purpose, and that may have it’s own dangers.”

In an interview, Cate Sutherland, executive director of the Addictions Centre for Hasting and Prince Edward County, said she doesn’t know if they’ll get more clients.

“We hadn’t thought about it,” said Sutherland. “ It could happen.”

But Sutherland also said that Oxycontin hasn’t been a big issue for their clients.

Sutherland said that they do not differentiate between Oxycontin and other opioids. Though they see some people in the area using Oxycontin, it is not the highest reported opioid.

“Our area is no different from any other area, in terms of opioid abuse,” said Sutherland.

Jason Marcotte, for the Belleville police drug unit, disagrees.

“I think because of our location, we’re kind of the half-way point between Toronto and Montreal, that being said, it’s kind of a bigger community than a lot of other places,” said Marcotte. “Compared to Port Hope, Cobourg, there are more people in this area.”

Sutherland said the problem is no worse in this area.

“The Quinte area is no different from any other community along the 401,” said Sutherland. “There are a hundred cities along the 401 its just cooperation between the forces because we’re on the 401 doesn’t mean opioid use is worse here.”

Marcotte said that its no just because our population is large, it’s the fact that there are so many communities in the surrounding area. Thee communities include Bancroft, Madoc, Brighton, Trenton, Marmora, and Prince Edward County.

“I think if they’re going to stop someplace, this would be a good place to stop,” said Marcotte. “If they are looking to distributing whatever they’re selling, to get the best bang for their buck.”

Marcotte said Oxycontin is one of their major problems.

“It’s a frequent occurrence,” said Marcotte. “It’s one of our major issues that we have in the area as drug use goes.”

The Belleville drug unit and Project Longarm, a project started in 2001 to stop drug trafficking in the Belleville and Quinte area, are executing search warrants for drugs like Oxycontin up to a couple times a week.

“We’re (executing search warrants) fairly frequently,” said Marcotte.

Sharon Thompson, RN and public health nurse, said that Hastings and Prince Edward Counties health unit does not see Oxycontin use as a problem in the Belleville area.

“I’m not saying it might not be a problem for a segment of the population but we don’t have any high statistics,” said Thompson.

Though the health unit has low statistics for Oxycontin, it does provide a needle exchange program. McFaul is in charge of the program.

“If someone was using Oxycontin in an injectable format we do provide the needle exchange program throughout Hastings and Prince Edward Counties where we provide injection drug use materials,” said McFaul. “With no questions asked, so they can safely inject their drugs and not share their materials from person to person.”

The disconnect between police and local agencies, said Marcotte may be because appearing blended with the clinics and the health unit may have a negative affect.

“If it appears that the police and the health unit are blended what you might end up having, people might actually be worried about going to the health unit. And we don’t want that. We want them to have access to that without fear and without a deterrent.”