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Wellbutrin abuse vexes Sudbury police, outreach workers

Health care officials say a new way to abuse an old prescription drug is causing open wounds among IV drug users in Sudbury — and police say there is next to nothing they can do to get it off the street.

Doctors being encouraged to revise prescribing habits, be aware of abuse symptoms

Health care officials say a new way to abuse an old prescription drug is causing open wounds among IV drug users in Sudbury — and police say there is next to nothing they can do to get it off the street.

Sudbury Hepatitis C nurse Camille Lavoix said intravenous drug users have discovered they can pulverize a common antidepressant and inject it for a short-lived high.

Sudbury Hepatitis C nurse Camille Lavoix spends part of everyday cleaning and bandaging wounds caused by Wellbutrin abuse. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

The pill is Wellbutrin — or buproprion — and it's used to treat depression and to help people quit smoking. It's legal, cheap and abundant.

However when injected, it causes weeping abscesses all over the body.

Lavoix said the abscesses resemble a lunar crater with a black spot of dead tissue at the bottom.

Despite the horrible side effects, she said the drug is more popular than Oxycontin.

“I think it has definitely become more popular, as Oxycontin has disappeared from the streets,” Lavoix said.

“So I would say potentially two-and-a-half years ago we started seeing an upsurge and now we are in full swing.”

'Not much we can do'

Sudbury police say they have encountered the drug about 12 times in the past year.

Sudbury police staff sergeant John Somerset says, from an enforcement perspective there's not much police can do, as Wellbutrin is legal to possess. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

“In terms of enforcement perspective there's not much we can do,” staff sergeant John Somerset said.

“It is not illegal to possess, but you do have to have a prescription to possess. So those who do not have a prescription for it, it will be confiscated.”

Both Somerset and Lavoix said the solution to cutting down the availability of the drug lies with doctors.

They said awareness of potential misuse and more careful prescribing habits will reduce the amount of the drug on the streets.

Meanwhile, Lavoix continues to help those afflicted with side effects. For the past four months, she has spent part of everyday cleaning and bandaging wounds caused by Wellbutrin abuse.

There can be thirty wounds at a time on patients, she said.

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