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Officials crack down on Opana

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By Tracy Harris

Law enforcement officials are cracking down on Opana, a potentially lethal pain killer becoming increasingly popular in Kentucky.

Opana is a brand name for oxymorphone and is twice as strong as OxyContin.

La Grange Police Chief Kevin Collett said he is seeing the problem in Oldham County, too. 

He said it seemed like overnight the focus switched from OxyContin and methamphetamine to Opana.

Oldham County Police spokesman Mike Head said his department has seen an increase in Opana-related incidents in the past six months.

“There is definitely a problem with Opana,” he said.

Last week, a judge sentenced two men arrested in Taylorsville for sale and distribution of Opana. 

Ricky Burton, 46, received a sentence of four years and three months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to two counts of a federal grand jury indictment in September.

Devon Antonio McCants, 21, received a sentence of two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to two counts of a federal grand jury indictment in October.

Both accepted a plea agreement admitting to possessing and distributing Opana. 

In May 2011, United States Drug Enforcement Administration officials seized over 2,200 Opana pills from Burton and McCants.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma reformulated the drug to make it more difficult to crush in 2010, and the strategy seems to be working.

According to the Federal Drug Administration, the OxyContin reformulation is the first intended to deter abuse, but others are now following suit, including Opana.

Opana manufacturer Endo released its new extended release tablet in December.

“Patient safety is our top concern and addressing appropriate use of opioids is a responsibility that we take very seriously,” said Dr. Ivan Gergel, Endo’s executive vice president for research and design and chief scientific officer. 

“We firmly believe this new formulation of Opana ER, coupled with our long-term commitment to awareness and education around appropriate use of opioids will benefit patients, physicians and payers,” he said.

The problems associated with extended release tablets are one thing that worries local police.

Collett said the drug’s extended release form is particularly scary because it is easy to overdose — even crushing the pill to make it easier to swallow is dangerous. The Opana warning label cautions breaking the tablets down “leads to the rapid release and absorption of a potentially fatal dose of oxymorphone.”

In Louisville, 33 deaths were attributed to Opana in 2011, according to the Jefferson County coroner’s office.

Two of those were Louisville golf pros Kenneth Postlewait, 52, and Casey Combs, 48. The coroner’s report on both men showed they died of substance intoxication, including alcohol and Opana.

No deaths in Oldham County have been linked to Opana at this time, but it is definitely being used, according to Collett.