August 30, 2001
State officials tell legislators 15 of 55 deaths were likely intentional
Many OxyContin deaths may be suicides
The deputy attorney general said that the typical victim of oxycodone abuse is not the same as a hard-core user.
By The Associated Press
Almost one-fourth of deaths connected to abuse of OxyContin and similar drugs in Virginia may be suicides, state officials told legislators gathering information on illegal diversion of the drug.
Deputy Attorney General Bradley Cavedo said Tuesday that of the 55 oxycodone-related deaths recorded by the medical examiner since 1997, 15 seem to be cases where the victim wanted to die. Oxycodone is the active ingredient in OxyContin and several other painkillers.
Dr. William Massello, assistant chief medical examiner, said there are no specific indicators that investigators look for when determining a suicide.
It has to do with the history of the person and how high the drug level is, Massello said. If theyre depressed and have a long history of depression, then its probably a suicide. If they leave a note, its probably a suicide.
OxyContin, the top-selling narcotic painkiller in America, has been blamed for more than a hundred deaths nationwide since it first hit the market in 1996. The 12-hour pills are meant for severe and chronic pain, but abusers have learned to crush them and snort or inject the powder for a heroin-like rush.
Its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma LP of Stamford, Conn., faces at least 14 lawsuits from people who say theyve become addicted to the drug or who want to make the company responsible for OxyContin-related crimes.
State lawmakers called the OxyContin meetings in preparation for the next General Assembly session.
In his report, Cavedo noted that autopsy results show the typical victim of oxycodone abuse is not the same as a hard-core user.
The biggest group is middle-aged women, early middle-aged, he said.
Some oxycodone-related deaths appear to be accidental overdoses by the person ingesting the drug illicitly, Cavedo added.
The attorney generals office is overseeing a statewide task force of medical experts and law enforcement officials that has been looking for ways to curb OxyContin abuse.