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May 31, 2004 - The Times (LA)

'Lollipop Drug' Highly Addictive

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A teenager sits on the couch of his home, watching television and sucking on a lollipop.

The 15-year-old's mother walks by and notices nothing unusual.

Unbeknownst to her, the child is using drugs.

"It looks just like a lollipop," said Alexandria police Sgt. Newmon Bobb, supervisor of the Narcotics Division. "Parents wouldn't notice."

Cancer patients use the drug Actiq to help with "breakthrough cancer pain," Bobb said. On the street, it is known as the "lollipop drug" or perc-a-pop, and is as addictive as other prescription medicines.

The berry-flavored medicine is on a stick and resembles a lollipop. It has its legal uses, but like other prescription medicines, it is being diverted, Bobb said.

While not yet popular in Alexandria, the drug is something Bobb wants to warn parents about before it becomes the next big thing for drug users, especially children. Metro narcotics agents already have had one case where a suspect was in possession of the lollipop drug.

Agents know the medicine is on the street, but have not seen it in large quantities.

Bobb said the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has reported an increase in misuse of the drug's ingredient fentanyl.

In 2000, there were 576 reports of nonmedical use for the medicine, but the total increased to nearly 1,500 in 2002.

Actiq began as a concept to provide a pain reliever for children, said Dr. Stephen Katz, an Alexandria pain-management specialist. The ingredient fentanyl is a synthetic form of morphine, but it is four to 10 times more powerful, he said.

Actiq usually is used for patients who already are taking other narcotics. Misuse of the medicine is "very hazardous," Bobb said. "It could result in injury or death." Katz agreed, saying the medicine is "very addictive."

Its misuse can result in respiratory depression and makes swallowing difficult. Mixing it with other depressives, like alcohol, is even more dangerous, he said, adding that the medicine can cause dizziness, sleepiness and nausea.

Because of its hazards, states that kits are available that include a child restraint safety lock, warning stickers and magnets for the home and child-resistant storage containers.

Bobb fears it is just a matter of time before the lollipop drug starts popping up in central Louisiana. Each stick costs $6 to $9 from a pharmacy, but sells for $20 to $30 on the street, Bobb said.

The drug's impact lasts about an hour.

Katz prescribes Actiq and said it works well for his cancer patients. However, he, too, fears its use is being diverted.

Bobb is especially concerned about the medicine's appeal to children and teenagers. Bobb estimates the target group of illegal sales of the medicine is 15 and older but younger children could misuse it.

Teenagers responded one of two ways when asked about the medicine: "What?" or "I have never heard of it." Bradley Gunter, a 2004 graduate of Oak Hill High School, has never heard of the lollipop drug, but the thought of it being on the street scares him. It is something new for the college-bound student to worry about.

For illegal drug users, Actiq is easy to use, there is no needle or swallowing, and it can be easily concealed, authorities said.

Manufacturers have designed ways to make the medicine less appealing to children. They are white on a plain white stick with "RX" on it. They also come packaged in foil covering not easily opened by children.

In addition, Capt. James Rauls of Metro Narcotics said it is harder to divert than other medicines. The prescription for Actiq is tailored to cancer patients and not used for other treatments.

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