The `Poor Man's Heroin'
An Ohio surgeon helps feed a growing addiction to OxyContin
OxyContin, introduced by Purdue Pharma in 1995, has been hailed as a breakthrough painkiller because it allows a measured dose of the opiate Oxycodone to be released into the bloodstream. But abusers, who get a fast high by smashing the pills, are boosting demand as well. "Drug abuse goes through fads and epidemics, and OxyContin is on the upturn," says Don Nelson, a pharmacologist with Ohio Drug and Poison Control. "When people become aware of a script doctor, they come in droves."
Their suspicions aroused, the Southern Ohio Law Enforcement Drug Task Force sent in undercover agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. And they soon learned why Lilly was so popular. According to Greg Ratcliff, Portsmouth's chief of police, the doctor performed little or no physical examination. After collecting $200 cash, he would elicit a complaint from a patient, make a note of "intractable pain," then give the patient a prescription. He charged $10 for each narcotic pill, an additional $10 for each OxyContin.
On March 9, federal agents arrested Lilly as he tried to buy an M-16 assault rifle from an undercover police officer. Meanwhile, agents raided his office and found he had no nurse, computer, or telephone. At the home of Lilly's girlfriend Jeri Fisher, federal agents discovered almost $500,000 in cash, passbooks for offshore bank accounts, stereos and TVs in their original boxes, and a loaded pistol.
The day after Lilly was arrested, Jeff Pennington, the antiques dealer, went into Lilly's office for the first time. "It was like a movie set," he says. There was an X-ray machine that wasn't plugged in, monitors that weren't hooked up to computers, and an examining room that was nothing but a table and chair.