Estimated to be six to eight times more powerful than morphine, a prescription narcotic called Opana is hooking mostly young people on a potent new way to get high, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano warned Monday.
"I am declaring a chemical dependency public health alert with respect to the prescription drug Opana," Mangano said at a news conference in Mineola, where he was joined by experts in law enforcement, chemical dependency and public health.
Opana is a narcotic pain-relief drug prescribed in tablet strengths ranging from 5 to 40 milligrams. Crushing a tablet alters its time-release feature, which leads to rapid absorption and a quick, euphoric high, medical experts at the news conference said. Abusers snort the drug.
The medication is being sold illegally, for as little as $1 per milligram, under several names, law enforcement officials said: Blues, New Blues, Pinks, Pinkos, Octagons and Mrs. O.
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said the medication is twice as potent as OxyContin and is filling the vacuum left when OxyContin was reformulated last year, which prevents it from being crushed.
Opana addiction is being seen primarily among young people, Reynolds said, who are seeking treatment at the council's facilities in Williston Park and Ronkonkoma. He was unable to provide statistics, but said the number of those seeking help began to rise in August, when OxyContin pills were replaced by the new formula.
"Most of the people we have seen are under the age of 25," he said. "Withdrawal is very, very difficult. Use of this drug has picked up in the last few months."
Despite the drug's rising popularity, Nassau Police Det. Marianne Thompson said the county has made only four arrests related to the drug, all in 2010. No deaths have been linked to the drug on Long Island. Still, last month the Intelligence Section of the Nassau County Police Department issued an alert to officers to be aware of it.
The medication, available by injection since 1959, has been on the market in pill form for two years. Even though the manufacturer, Endo Pharmaceuticals, coats tablets to prevent them from being crushed, abusers hold the tablets in their mouths long enough for the waxy coating to dissolve, experts said Monday, or shave off the coating with a razor.
Mangano and others at the news conference called on the public to properly dispose of unused medications, especially narcotics, to prevent Opana and other potentially dangerous drugs from being abused.
"This is a very serious gateway to drug abuse," he said.