What is Opana?

By Max Resnik

February 1, 2012 Updated Feb 1, 2012 at 8:20 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The painkiller Opana has been the common denominator in two pharmacy robberies in Fort Wayne this week.

The first robbery occurred Monday at the Scott’s on North Clinton Street. The robber presented the pharmacist with a note that read, “I’ve got a gun.” The robber then demanded Opana.

The following day around 12:30 a.m., the Walgreens pharmacy on Coldwater Road was also robbed for the same reason. In that robbery, the man also appeared to have a weapon in his pocket and demanded Opana.

Sarah Pfaehler, Clinical Pharmacy Coordinator for Parkview Hospital, says abusers of Opana, a painkiller prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, do not take the drug orally as prescribed. Instead, Pfaelher says abusers will crush Opana pills to either snort them or take them sublingually. Each method produces an almost immediate sense of euphoria for the abuser that does not come with taking the painkiller orally. She says continued abuse of Opana, like other opioid narcotics, will shut down the respiratory system.

“These medications really lower your respiratory drive so that you don't want to breathe and if you don't want to breathe, you're going to stop breathing and you're going to die. So the downside really is that it's a very dangerous medication and people can die.”

Pfhaeler says Opana is quickly becoming popular like the Oxycontin craze of years past. She says that unlike Oxycontin, Opana does not give the abuser a sedated feeling. She says the sense of euphoria tends to last longer.

Pfhaeler says withdrawal symptoms of Opana abusers can be noticed both emotionally and physically. She says abusers will care less about their appearance and overall hygiene once hooked on a drug like Opana. She says the physical signs are more obvious.

“People will start to sweat, maybe get some goose bumps and some nausea and vomiting associated with that.”

Stan Pflueger, Deputy Director of Operations for Allen County Community Corrections, says they have seen just a handful of abusers who have come to them as a direct result of Opana abuse. He says it is possible that more people admitted to Community Corrections are taking Opana, but the drug screens they use do not include Opana.

The current drug screens used at Allen County Community Corrections cover eight categories: alcohol, amphetamines/methamphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, phencyclidine, and THC.

Those screens cost $6 and are performed between 10,000 and 12,000 times each year. To test for Opana, and about 600 other prescription drugs according to Pflueger, the cost would be at least $60 per screen.

Community Corrections is considering pursuing an electronic machine that examines an individual’s pupils much like police officers do in an OWI traffic stop. He says the machines are equipped to determine what drug is influencing an individual based on eye movement and pupil size.

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