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Officials warn leftover drug may be deadly

(ran PW, PC editions of Pasco Times)

A cancer patient's drug is linked to two serious overdoses, while officials wait for a lab report to confirm the drug's role in a teen's death.

Painkillers that belonged to a cancer patient are responsible for two serious overdoses and possibly the death of a 13-year-old Parrott Middle School student, sheriff's officials said Wednesday.

Maj. Richard Nugent said authorities think between 130 and 200 tablets of the opiate derivative oxycodone hydrochloride fell into the hands of a 17-year-old following the death of a local woman last year. He declined to identify the teen until the investigation is complete.

Since then, Nugent said the pills _ which contain the highest available dosage of the drug, 80 milligrams, and can be fatal even if only one pill is taken _ have been spread to teenagers and young adults throughout the county.

"What we're really scared about is that these kids don't have a clue what they're taking," Nugent said, adding that in some cases the pills were sold and in others given away. "Some are passing it off as morphine and others are saying, "Oh, it's okay, let's party.' "

Although investigators are still waiting for toxicology results, Nugent said they suspect the drug was at least a contributing factor to the death of Shauna Louise Ulman, 13, of 27052 Wakefield Drive. The Hill 'n Dale teenager was found unresponsive in a bed at a friend's house about 9 p.m. Sunday after taking a pill earlier that day and going to sleep.

Detectives now say a pill found by the bed and another one partially dissolved in Ulman's stomach appear to be oxycodone hydrochloride. Nugent added that detectives are investigating who supplied Ulman with the pills and indicated arrests are possible, although he declined to say what the charges would be.

In the meantime, authorities are trying to warn people about the pills, which are greenish and have the letters "OC" printed on one side and "80" printed on the other. Already, two other people have overdosed on them.

One Pasco County man, who obtained the drug at the same morning party that Ulman attended Sunday, also was rushed to Oak Hill Hospital on Sunday night after he passed out at a friend's house and had difficulty breathing, according to a sheriff's report. Jimmy Joseph Curry, 22, of 18415 Havenwood Drive in Shady Hills, was treated and released.

Monday night, a 17-year-old girl was rushed to Brooksville Regional Hospital for an overdose of the drug. Jennifer Ann Savidge, of 5210 White Road near Rolling Acres east of Brooksville, told authorities she had cut her leg and a friend gave her the pill Monday morning, telling her it was morphine. Soon after, the teen began to feel itchy and dizzy and started vomiting uncontrolably.

Other symptoms caused by the drug can include fatigue, nausea and difficulty breathing, Nugent said. One pill can be fatal, especially if combined with alcohol or another drug, and two pills "almost certainly" cause death, he said. He advised anyone who sees or experiences these symptoms to call 911.

"This is really serious," he said, explaining that hospitals have an antidote available, but people must be treated immediately. "This is not something you mess with."

The drug is safe if doctors prescribe the pills in small dosages and increase the dosage gradually as patients build tolerance.