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Feds make OxyContin arrests

Federal agents arrested four Ironton residents Wednesday, charging them with illegal distribution of OxyContin.

Friday, August 31, 2001

Federal agents arrested four Ironton residents Wednesday, charging them with illegal distribution of OxyContin.

Authorities served arrest warrants against Ralph Gannon, 42, James R. Gannon, 40, Vernon Hicks and William Easton, said agent Ed Boldt, FBI spokesperson in Cincinnati.

No specific addresses were available.

"This was part of an FBI investigation in the greater Portsmouth-Lawrence County area involving the illegal sale and/or distribution of OxyContin," Boldt said.

Although abuse of the powerful narcotic has gained national notoriety, the agency and its Portsmouth bureau did not target OxyContin specifically, the agent said.

"It’s part of the continuing FBI presence in the area," Boldt said. "But OxyContin is definitely becoming the drug of choice for people who are addicted to those types of drugs."

Each suspect arrested Wednesday appeared that day before U.S. Magistrate Jack Hogan, who released them on $10,000 unsecured bonds, Boldt said.

Information on the cases – gathered during a months-long undercover investigation – will be presented to a federal grand jury, then trial dates could follow, he said.

Each suspect faces charges of distributing OxyContin, a narcotic subject to federal control, Boldt said.

It’s a violation of federal law to possess a drug that’s listed in U.S. codes without a prescription, and distribution charges suggest something more serious – that a person or persons sold or otherwise handled it illegally, the agent said.

Also, the FBI has two outstanding arrest warrants – one against Robin Fout of Ironton; and Joyce A. McGlone, 54, who is currently incarcerated in state prison at Marysville, Boldt said.

The Lawrence Drug Task Force, including city and village police as well as the sheriff’s department, recently completed a separate investigation that resulted in several arrests for OxyContin abuse.

The Lawrence County Grand Jury returned 10 indictments after the investigation. To date, five of the suspects have been charged and/or summoned to court, Sheriff Tim Sexton said.

The FBI’s investigation did not involve those cases, although local law enforcement assisted in serving the federal warrants.

OxyContin – an oxycodone pain reliever similar to Percocet that’s prescribed for moderate to severe pain relief – has garnered quite a reputation, selling for $5 to $10 per pill for 10 mg tablets or as much as $80 for an 80 mg tablet.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports the pills, sometimes called "poor man’s heroin," have outpaced most other illicit drugs in the eastern United States.

In fact, the DOJ’s National Drug Intelligence Center called attention to OxyContin abuse this winter in a formal report.

A heroin addict in Ohio who learned about OxyContin at a methadone clinic committed at least seven aggravated robberies in early 2000 attempting to finance his 800-mg-a-day OxyContin habit, the report stated.

The Cincinnati Police Department’s Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad reports a growing threat. From January to October 2000, illicit drug dealers in Cincinnati diverted over 9,000 doses of OxyContin.

In West Virginia, the Gilbert Police Department reports OxyContin is the "worst" drug the department has ever encountered, with OxyContin abuse even surpassing marijuana abuse.

"Continued increases in the diversion and abuse of OxyContin are likely," the report stated. "Reliable strength, potential prescription cost coverage, and significant profit potential make OxyContin attractive to both illicit distributors and abusers. Authorities have recognized the increasing problems associated with diversion of the drug. Law enforcement officials, physicians, pharmacists, and representatives of Purdue Pharma L.P. are working together to find methods to limit diversion and abuse. Legislative initiatives are also being drafted to make OxyContin distribution less appealing by creating more stringent penalties."

· You can read the entire report online, http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs/651/

· More information is also available at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site, http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/oxycontin/

In addition, any citizen may call or report to the Portsmouth FBI office at 740-354-5645, agent Boldt said.