Crowd protests drug maker
Dozens who had lost relatives and friends to OxyContin
overdoses braved the rain outside an Orlando resort to
rally against manufacturer Purdue Pharma.
By Doris Bloodsworth
Sentinel Staff Writer
November 20, 2003
More than two dozen rain-soaked protesters outside an
Orlando drug-abuse prevention conference Wednesday waved
poster-size photos of their friends and loved ones who
died from OxyContin overdoses.
Some had traveled thousands of miles from as far away as
Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey to draw
attention to the controversial painkiller and its
manufacturer Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn.
"We feel there has to be a way to get the word out about
how deadly this drug can be," said Victor Del Regno, a
Rhode Island marketing executive whose 20-year-old son
Andrew died Sept. 26, 2002, after abusing OxyContin.
The protesters said they picked the three-day conference
led by Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba, because of
the wide-scale reports of OxyContin addiction and
overdose in Florida. Purdue was an exhibitor at the
conference, with a booth that offered materials aimed at
fighting drug abuse among young people.
Last month the Orlando Sentinel published a special
report that focused on deaths and addiction linked to
OxyContin and on Purdue's marketing of the drug. The
paper's review of 500 autopsy results from 2001 and 2002
showed that OxyContin was named in 83 percent of the 247
cases in which a specific oxycodone medication was
identified. Oxycodone is the active ingredient in
OxyContin and dozens of other painkillers. The paper did
not determine the specific medication in the remaining
A number of motorists honked and gave a thumbs-up signal
to the group calling themselves Relatives Against Purdue
The protesters already were battling the rain when an
unidentified woman pulled up in a truck and turned on
the sprinkler system where the protesters were standing
in front of the Caribe Royale Resort.
Chip Walden, the hotel's security director, said the
hotel had not authorized anyone to do so. In fact,
Walden said hotel management supported the protesters.
"I assure you that was nothing we ordered or knew
about," Walden said. "We looked at the group's Web site
[oxyabusekills.com] and believed they were peaceful. The
governor agrees with them, and we do too."
Jimmy Baltiero, 17, and his brother Tony Baltiero, 20,
both of Palm Coast, carried the photo of a Pennsylvania
overdose victim and a sign criticizing the
pharmaceutical company. The brothers were friends of
Randall Nuss, 18, who died from abusing OxyContin.
"Purdue is so dim," the sign read.
"We're out here for a good reason," Tony Baltiero said.
"All of these kids died from this [OxyContin overdose],
and turning on the water isn't going to make us leave."
Ed Bisch of Philadelphia read out loud a list of 260
names of people who have reportedly died of OxyContin
overdose and are listed in memorials on Bisch's Web
site. Bisch said eight of the names have been sent since
he arrived Sunday in Orlando.
Chronic pain patients who praise OxyContin and say it
allows them to function worry that such protests will
make it harder to get OxyContin.
Beth Smith of Orlando said she has seen both sides of
the narcotic drug.
Smith's 14-year-old daughter Kyera died earlier this
year while awaiting a bone-marrow transplant for
"One night she screamed for three hours, and they were
giving her morphine," said Smith, who then asked doctors
to give her daughter OxyContin instead.
"She was able to live her last month pain-free because
of OxyContin," Smith said.
But the Orlando mother also knows about the drug's
addictive nature. Smith carried a sign for Jason Kelley,
a close friend who died in Connecticut from accidental
OxyContin overdose earlier this year.
Kelley's mother, Kay Kelley-Moretti, who organized
Wednesday's protest, said her son was prescribed
OxyContin after a motorcycle accident in Daytona Beach.
Smith said she and her husband knew Kelley through their
mutual interest in motorcycle riding.
"He went from a charismatic, good-looking young man into
someone that was depressed. He would call me crying
because he was in withdrawal from this drug. He wanted
to stop," Smith said.
Purdue Pharma spokesman Clay Yeager, at the company's
conference exhibit, said he sympathized with the
families. First lady Columba Bush, who spoke at the
conference, also said she understood the families'
Yeager, a former official who worked with Homeland
Security head Tom Ridge while he was governor of
Pennsylvania, said he had seen the consequences of drug
abuse often in his 28 years' experience working with
youth and families.
"My message to them is let's all work together to form
solutions that can be long-term examples in our
communities," Yeager said.
"The problem isn't OxyContin," he continued. "The
problem isn't prescriptions. The problem is getting into
the heart of communities and schools and families and
working together to identify what's happening."
Purdue has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to
community-based drug-abuse prevention programs, he said,
including ones in Tallahassee, Tampa and Palm Beach
Columba Bush said drug abuse among young people,
including her daughter, Noelle, drove her to become
involved in prevention eight years ago.
"It's the most painful thing that can happen to a
parent, that's for sure," she said. "It is so sad, and
my heart is with them."
Doris Bloodsworth can be reached at email@example.com