Officer says use of drug is near epidemic in Shasta County
With a rash of OxyContin robberies and at least a threefold increase in the number of pills seized by local drug agents, the head of a north state drug task force is urging people to be wary of illicit use of the powerful prescription painkiller.
“I would call it close to an epidemic in our county right now,” said John Thulin, who heads the Shasta Interagency Narcotics Task Force. “A lot of kids are using it, from athletes to straight-A students in schools. This is very scary in our community. I think it’s time to raise the alarm.”
Thulin said that in 2008 his agents seized 376 OxyContin pills. The number of pills skyrocketed to 1,079 in 2009. This year, his agents are well on their way to beating that record number.
In the past few months, police have responded to several reports of robberies related to the drug.
Among them: On Aug. 11, a man walked into ShopKo on Lake Boulevard in Redding and passed a note to the workers behind the pharmacy counter, police said. The note said he had a gun and he demanded OxyContin pills, police said. The suspect hasn’t been caught.
In June, Jonathan Dean Hogue, 19, of Shasta Lake confessed to police that he robbed Lyle Allen Tubbs, 22, of Redding outside the Lake Liquor Market on Lake Boulevard after a failed drug deal for OxyContin, police said.
Hogue was charged with suspicion of robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit a felony.
OxyContin is the brand name for oxycodone, a narcotic prescribed to patients suffering from moderate to severe pain.
Thulin said the drug, when used under the supervision of a doctor, is an effective pain reliever, especially for those with chronic pain.
But when the pills are chopped up and smoked or injected, they produce a high similar to heroin.
It’s also just as mentally and physically addictive, leaving users vomiting, sweating and convulsing. Some actually need to be hospitalized if they try to get off the drug, Thulin said.
It’s also more expensive than heroin.
A single pill can sell on the streets for more than $40 to $60. Some serious addicts use more than a half-dozen pills a day, Thulin said.
“Heroin is coming in to supply people who can’t afford OxyContin,” Thulin said. “A gram of heroin is about 80 bucks.
They’re going to get a lot more use out of a gram of heroin.”
Anita Joseph, a community education specialist with Shasta County Public Health, said OxyContin use is especially worrisome among teens.
She said that in 2007, 13 percent of 11th-graders in Shasta County responded in surveys that they improperly used prescription medications. She said she had no doubt that the number has risen.
“Parents and kids both think it’s safer to use than an illicit drug,” Joseph said. “But it’s not. That’s the same class of drugs as heroin.”
She urged parents to be mindful of keeping an eye on the drugs in their medicine cabinets.
Thulin urged parents to watch out for the signs of illicit OxyContin use. He said that most addicts cut the pills with a common pill cutter sold over the counter in drugstores. The chopped pills are then heated from below on a sheet of aluminum foil with a user inhaling the smoke with a straw. The burned pills leave blackened tracks along the foil, Thulin said.
When smoking stops having the desired effects, some users resort to injecting it with a syringe.
He said no one who tries illicit OxyContin believes they’ll end up shooting up like a heroin junkie. “It’s just as insidious and addictive as heroin,” Thulin said.
By Ryan Sabalow
August 29, 2010