San Diego Union Tribune

July 27, 2006

Mother pushes for prescription drug reform

Woman speaks to Congress; son died


WASHINGTON – A woman whose 24-year-old son died in San Diego after mixing beer with one OxyContin pill at a party two years ago urged Congress yesterday to take broad steps to curtail prescription drug abuse.

Barbara Van Roovan called for more education of physicians and other health care professionals to help reduce deaths linked to overdoses of powerful prescription medications. She said federal regulators have been slow to act on a request that OxyContin, a powerful pain killer, be made safer.


“There is no one culprit,” Van Roovan told the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. “I believe it will take a concerted effort by many individuals, groups and agencies to stem the tide of deaths and addiction to prescription drugs, most notably OxyContin, that continues to plague our country.”

Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder, R-Ind., called the hearing to focus on prescription drug abuse as he urged representatives of government agencies to crack down on what he called “a problem of epidemic proportions that demands focused attention and aggressive action.”

Stephen J. Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said his group “is especially concerned about the advent of what we have dubbed Generation RX” – young people who abuse medical and chemical products.

Prescription drugs are now the second most popular illegal drugs among teens just behind marijuana, Pasierb said.

Emergency room treatment for OxyContin-related drugs increased 512 percent between 1995 and 2002, said Dr. Bertha K. Madras, deputy director of the National Drug Control Policy.

Van Roovan said her son, Patrick Stewart, a graduate of San Diego State University and a personal trainer, had experimented with drugs in college but was serious about his life ambitions. He was praised by his friends as “the one who puts you back on your bicycle after you fall off,” she said.

But in 2004, Stewart attended a Fourth of July party in San Diego and was given an OxyContin pill and also had a beer. He lapsed into a coma and died five days later, she said.

“After ingesting one OxyContin,” Van Roovan told the committee. “He had no other drugs in his system and only a small amount of alcohol.”

Van Roovan said she found out later that her son was told OxyContin was “sort of like a muscle relaxant, that it was prescription and FDA approved, and therefore safe.”

Friends said Stewart was unaware that OxyContin was similar to “heroin in a pill,” said Van Roovan, a Sacramento-area teacher in the California community college system and the wife and daughter of a physician.

After his death, Van Roovan carried out her son's wish to have his organs donated. Only his lungs could not be shared because “OxyContin had destroyed them,” she said.

Since then, Van Roovan has been an outspoken advocate of reforms for prescription drugs and increased education among physicians.

Van Roovan said she filed a petition with the federal Food and Drug Administration in February 2005 asking that OxyContin be reformulated and carry a better warning in the hope of reducing deaths.

“Despite many attempted contacts with the FDA, I have received only one communication from the agency – a letter stating that more time was needed to review the petition request and I would be notified of any decision,” Van Roovan said.

During the hearing, Souder expressed frustration at the government's seemingly slow pace in dealing with prescription drug abuse issues.

“Is anybody doing anything?” Souder asked.

One Drug Enforcement Administration official said, “I'll have to get back to you on that, sir.”

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