Source: CNN
Date: 27 April 2004

Lollipop drug hitting the streets

Perc-a-pop: the fentanyl lollipop
Manufacturer's spokeswoman: "Like any
opioid, there is a potential for misuse."

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- A narcotic painkiller that looks like a lollipop -- designed to speed relief to cancer patients -- is starting to show up in illegal sales with the nickname "perc-a-pop."

The drug's ease of use and sweet taste have law enforcement officials worried about the potential for abuse. Actiq, a berry-flavored lozenge on a stick, contains the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

"We're starting to see it emerge as a drug that is, as we call it, 'diverted,' which is a legally prescribed drug being used illegally," said Kevin Harley, spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Pappert.

"It's a drug that is easily administered or taken by somebody who might be afraid to either take a pill, snort or inject a needle in their arm."

The attractive taste -- described by the manufacturer as a "mild berry flavor" -- makes abuse more likely, he added. Harley said each Actiq lozenge retails for $9.10. The street value of a perc-a-pop is $20.

"We started seeing them in Philly, and that's where we understand the nickname came from," he said.

Manufactured by Cephalon Inc., Actiq's active ingredient is absorbed by rubbing the lozenge against the inside of the cheek.

It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to combat "breakthrough pain," flare-ups suffered by cancer patients who are already taking narcotics in more conventional liquid or pill form to cope with chronic pain.

"Like any opioid, there is a potential for misuse," said company spokeswoman Stacey Backhardt. She said the company believes, however, "there has not been a substantial diversion of this product in the state or elsewhere."

Fentanyl was first introduced as an intravenous anesthetic called Sublimaze in the 1960s. Besides being taken orally, it is also dispensed as a transdermal patch under the trade name Duragesic.

Hospitals in the lower 48 states reported 576 incidents of non-medical use of fentanyl products in 2000; the number rose to 1,506 by 2002, said Leah R. Young, spokeswoman for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Actiq ('perc-a-pop'): the fentanyl lollipop