Local arrests put focus on increasing problem of abuse and theft of controlled narcotic OxyContin

By: Penne Usher, Journal Correspondent
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With a street value ranging from $15 to $40 a tablet, it’s no wonder thefts of the controlled substance OxyContin are on the rise. Placer County Undersheriff Devon Bell said that abuse of the controlled narcotic has “trended up” over the last three to four years steadily. “It’s flat now, but at a high level,” Bell said. In recent months the abuse and theft of the controlled prescription drug OxyContin in the Auburn area has escalated. In the past several months there have been numerous robberies and at least three arrests for OxyContin thefts. The most recent attempted robbery was Wednesday evening when 22-year-old Michael Brown walked into the Longs pharmacy in Town Center in Auburn with a concealed .38-caliber handgun and a note demanding OxyContin. Bell said one of the challenges of combating this drug issue is that OxyContin is legal. “Kids are taking the pills from their parents,” Bell said. “Are there a lot of arrests? No, but we know it’s happening. We hear it from our school resource officers.” There are two drugs of choice for teens, one is alcohol and the other is pharmaceutical drugs, such as OxyContin. OxyContin is legitimately used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is fast becoming the drug of choice for pain management with sales reaching more than $2 billion, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. With more of the drug in medicine cabinets, it makes the substance more readily available for abuse, not just from children stealing from their parents and grandparents, but from legitimate prescription holders abusing the drug. But comparing OxyContin abuse to that of methamphetamines isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, Bell said. “It’s difficult to wrap your head around. OxyContin thefts (which include medicine cabinet thefts) are underreported to law enforcement,” he said. “We have more meth busts, but abuse of legal drugs is a bit more of a challenge to quantify.” The abuse of methamphetamines, or “crank”, is “cut and dry.” “Meth is an illegal substance. Meth is still the drug of choice that we get the most arrests on,” Bell said. In an effort to prevent the abuse numbers from climbing even higher, Bell said parents need to be educated and secure all their prescription drugs. “We will always have junkies who will do anything for a high, but parents can assist in preventing their children from getting a hold of prescription drugs,” Bell said. At the street level, OxyContin is a money maker. A single pill can bring in as much as $40 to a dealer. “We’ve worked a number of cases (related to OxyContin) ranging from theft, robbery, forged prescriptions, stolen prescriptions, transportation, sales and simple possession of OxyContin,” said Lt. Jeff Ausnow of the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. “These cases represent an approximate total of 1,000 OxyContin pills, which equals approximately 80,000 milligrams. The DEA street values are approximately $1 per milligram.” Matthew Foster reportedly stole at least 171 pills with a street value estimated from $2,500 to more than $6,800 on Sept. 26 from the pharmacy at the Loomis Raley’s. He allegedly displayed a handgun, at which time the pharmacy staff handed over two bottles of the drug. “That’s a lot of money,” said Detective Sgt. Victor Pecoraro of the Auburn Police Department. “Forty dollars for a pill with an effect that lasts hours is a lot. The more they take, the more they need. (Users) become addicted and need more to get the same high.” The drug is stolen for a variety of reasons. “They steal them to make money or because they have habits,” Pecoraro said. In addition to Foster’s arrest, Cooper Wesley O’Neal, 25, was arrested for allegedly selling OxyContin to an undercover agent March 6, 2008. No further information was made available about his case. Foster remains in custody at Placer County Jail on $61,000 bail. O’Neal is no longer in custody. Brown remains in custody on $105,000 bail.