Opana ER (extended release) contains oxymorphone, which is a strong combination of the painkillers oxycodone and morphine.
Police say Opana is one of the most highly addictive and highly abused narcotics, not only in Hawkins County, but across the country.
Since June 2012, newly manufactured Opana has been coated with an “extended release” material that, when swallowed as intended, releases the strong painkiller slowly over a specific period of time.
Rogersville Police Department Officer Travis Fields said Monday that many intravenous drug users don’t realize that extended release substance can turn into a gel if injected into the bloodstream and cause potentially fatal harm.
Sunday afternoon Brittany Elizabeth Smith, 23, 124 Holston Terrace Drive, Rogersville, stopped with a friend at the Taco Bell restaurant on Route 66 in Rogersville for a meal.
Smith later told police she began suffering withdrawal, or “pill sickness,” while at Taco Bell due to her addiction to Opana and was in need of a fix. She didn’t want her friend to know she was using drugs, however, so she went into the ladies room.
Smith had reportedly been in the restroom about 20 minutes when someone smelled smoke. Rogersville police were dispatched to the restaurant around 3:30 p.m., and upon their arrival allegedly found Smith on her knees on the restroom floor attempting to inject a syringe in her arm.
According to an RPD report, officers also allegedly observed two metal spoons and two additional syringes on the bathroom floor. Smith allegedly admitted that the syringe contained Opana and that the smoke had come from matches she used to dissolve the Opana into solution in a spoon.
Ironically, Smith admitted to police that prior to going to Taco Bell Sunday afternoon she’d been at the funeral of a person whose death is suspected of being attributed to intravenous Opana use.
Fields told the Times-News Monday that many intravenous Opana users, including Smith, don’t know the extended release substance in the pill can kill them.
“When that (extended release) substance hits the bloodstream, it turns into a gel, and it can end up causing blood clots, kidney failure, brain damage, or heart failure,” Fields said.
“Just recently we’ve had three suspected cases. One person had to go on kidney dialysis, one person went into intensive care, and there’s one suspected death — all related to shooting up Opana.”
Apparently intravenous use delivers the more powerful high that drug abusers are looking for.
Smith reportedly told police she had no idea that the extended release substance in the pill could potentially kill her if injected.
Opana ER has a boxed warning for prescription users which states, “Opana ER is NOT intended for use as an as needed analgesic. Opana ER tablets are to be swallowed whole and are not to be cut, broken, chewed, dissolved, or crushed. Taking cut, broken, chewed, dissolved, or crushed Opana ER tablets leads to rapid release and absorption of a potentially fatal dose of oxymorphone.”
Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chad Gillenwater, who heads the department’s Narcotics Unit, said Opana abuse is an epidemic in Hawkins County and across the nation.
He said enough people die of regular overdoses, but the intravenous injection of the extended release substance is basically a game of Russian roulette.
“Some people get by with it several times, and some people do it wrong one time and it shuts them down,” Gillenwater said. “Some people think they’ve figured out ways around it, and then they finally screw up and pull up some of the (extended release material) into their syringe. It all mixes together in one spoon and they have to know what to pull up and what not to, and if they pull up some of that other stuff — you’re a goner.
“Opana is a highly potent mixture of oxycodone and morphine, and before (the extended release material was added) they were still overdosing, but it wasn’t like it is now. It just kills them deader than a hammer now.”
Smith allegedly admitted to police Sunday that she didn’t have a prescription for Opana. She was charged with possession of Schedule II narcotics and possession of drug paraphernalia.
As of Monday, she remained held in the Hawkins County Jail on $10,000 bond with arraignment set for Wednesday.