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Pain relief drugs are found in Pa. school

March 15, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - No arrests have been made or disciplinary action taken following the discovery two weeks ago of lollipop-like prescription drugs at Greencastle-Antrim High School, the school's principal said Monday.

Called Actiq, the drug is prescribed for seriously ill patients, usually cancer sufferers, to relieve acute pain, said Frank Ervin, owner of Carl's Drug Store in Greencastle.

"It's for deathly ill patients who can't take injection," he said.

Fentanyl is the medication's active ingredient, Ervin said. Patients put it in their mouths like a lollipop. A normal dosage is four to six sticks a day.

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School Principal Jack Appleby said the fact that some students were using the drug came to light after a school nurse sent some students home for having flu-like symptoms. So far, Appleby said, there is no connection between use of the drug and the students who were sent home.

Appleby said Actiq is sold in boxes of 30 sticks. Since each box contains a large quantity, it's easy for someone to steal by reaching in and grabbing a handful.

School officials and police investigators believe a student stole the sticks from a relative or neighbor.

Broken sticks and their wrappers, which resemble those of hypodermic needles, have been found in the school, Appleby said. The evidence was turned over to police who will try to track down the drug store they came from, he said.

Ervin said while he believes Actiq is good medication, he doesn't stock the drug in his store because it can easily fall into the hands of young children. "A small child could walk by grandma's desk and reach in the box and grab some thinking they were lollipops," he said. "It's like candy on a stick."

Ervin said Actiq is prescribed in different strengths. "I'm just afraid of the potential for kids," he said. "It can be fatal in high doses."

Appleby said it took school officials time to recognize that some students were using the drug.

"To a casual observer it looks like a toothpick sticking out of a kid's mouth. Students have lollipops, too," he said.

School officials became suspicious when they observed some students in class. "They were lethargic, slow," Appleby said.

Administrators reacted by notifying teachers to be aware of the drug. They held a schoolwide drug-prevention assembly last week that featured two Philadelphia narcotics police officers who spoke graphically to the students about drug use, Appleby said.

In a related incident, Appleby said, three students - two boys and a girl - were suspended for possessing OxyContin on school property. The incident is being investigated by police and an expulsion hearing for the students has been scheduled, he said.

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