Federal drug authorities are increasingly concerned about the dangers to unsuspecting kids who take the pills as a party drug, having no idea what they're in for. This is the story of what happens when this powerful prescription painkiller gets into the wrong hands. MTV's Serena Altschul reports.
Summer Ulman and her little sister Shauna looked like twins. They were born just 10 months apart. They were inseparable.
Their father Mike and mother Becky divorced as the girls hit their teens. The sisters chose to live with Mike in Brooksville, Florida.
With Mike working long hours at his martial arts studio, Summer says she and her sister began skipping school and sneaking out at night.
"In that last month, they were starting to drink," says Mike. "I would notice alcohol on their breath, and that was sort of the first thing. They'd get into trouble and they'd get grounded and then they'd end up sneaking out a week later." But he didn't think they were experimenting with drugs.
Summer was 14 when she began to hang out with 18-year-old Rufus Simpson, a high school dropout who lived with his dad. Shauna was 13. In late January, 2000, the sisters snuck out to a party at Simpson's house.
He offered them drugs. They had no idea they were taking oxycontin.
"He lied to us and said at first it was a muscle relaxer, then he said it was a different kind of Ecstasy," Summer says.
After Summer took the pills, she passed out. When she woke up she was woozy. She realized that Rufus was frantic, saying that Shauna was dead. She was on Simpson's bed. Summer listened to her sister's heart, and heard nothing.
By the time emergency workers brought Shauna to the hospital, she was dead of an Oxycontin overdose.
Toxicologist Bruce Goldberger found oxycodone, the active ingredient in oxycontin, and other drugs, in Shauna's system. "The level of oxycodone in Shauna's blood was about the highest we've ever seen," he says. He says the oxycodone killed her.
He estimates Shauna took six 80-milligram pills. "If I took an OxyContin 80, there's a good chance I would die," he says. "And that's not because I'm allergic to the medication. It's because it packs this powerful punch."
Shauna Ulman's death was the first in a growing number of overdoses attributed to OxyContin in central Florida.
Says Goldberg: "About a hundred of the cases that we see every year now, are oxcyodone deaths; and about half of those are oxycontin-related deaths."
Prosecutor Don Scaglione traced the Oxycontin that killed Shauna back to a legitimate source, a woman who was dying of cancer. After she died, the pills remained in her house.
The pills, which originated from a parent's medicine cabinet, had already passed through the hands of several teens who had been at a fair earlier that day, and ended up at the party. Simpson pled guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to fifteen years.
"We got a life sentene, we'll never get over it, never get better," says Mike.
Mike and Summer are having a hard time moving on. Now 16, Summer hasn't been to school since her sister died. She has recreated Shauna's bedroom in a new house.
Summer believes Shauna's story needs to be told.
"Everybody knows because of this girl that died, there's something out there that you need to watch out for," she says.
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