Oxy Ring Wreaks Havoc on a Small Washington Town

How an Oxy Ring Wreaked Havoc on a Small Washington Town

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This post was originally published on August 31, 2016.

We’ve been hearing for a while how OxyContin is often a gateway to heroin, which is all the more devastating since most people who get hooked on Oxy have no history of addiction and start using the pill as prescribed for pain relief. Another reality is that Oxy addiction itself can have disastrous consequences, and fueling this addiction are drug rings selling Oxy on the black market. Now, the story of how the influx of OxyContin crippled a small town in Washington State from 2008 to 2010 is getting some buzz.

An Unusual Way to Get a Hip Hop Deal

Jevon “Goldie” Lawson, a drug dealer in the small town of Everett, Washington, started the problem in 2008. Prior to getting his hands on Oxy, he sold crack on the doorstep of a 7-11, getting high himself with whatever stash was leftover. But Oxy found its way up the coast from Southern California when members of the Inland Empire Crips began smuggling the pills up to Washington. Lawson jumped at the opportunity to up his earning potential, and quickly banked hundreds of thousands of dollars—enough to start his own hip hop label and bust out a record.

Just Follow the Money Trail

The origin of the black market pills could be traced back to “rogue” doctors and pharmacists working out of a bullshit clinic called “Lake Medical” in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles (it was no clinic, just a front for a drug ring). There, the dirty docs wrote phony prescriptions, which they passed along to pharmacists who ordered the pills from Oxy maker Purdue Pharma.

The fake clinic ordered hundreds of thousands of pills. But perhaps the real tragedy is that as Purdue Pharma fulfilled the orders—sending pills in massive quantities to Lake Medical—they never once stopped to go “Hmmm” and investigate the situation. After the DEA started sniffing around and asking questions, the company finally admitted that yes; they’d been sending off loads of pills to the bogus clinic. Given the family’s criminal past, there’s a good possibility that they suspected something was a bit fishy over in Lake Medical, but they likely didn’t care as long as the money kept flooding in.

They really should have given a shit, because Oxy is so addictive on its own, even upstanding Everett citizens who had never broken the law found themselves losing their lives to the prescription drug.

One such addict was Katie McKnight, the daughter of an internist whose Oxy habit helped usher her into multiple rehab stints. When her addiction to Oxy left her down-and-out, McKnight turned to heroin for a cheaper fix, ultimately dying of an overdose in 2011.

Right before her death, she wrote the following in pink ink in a journal:

“God please give me some kind of way to get into detox to get the help I need to kick the dependence and have my life back. I seriously feel like I’m slowly dying. I need help!”

Hold Big Pharma Accountable

It’s no surprise that Oxy led to the death of McKnight, given that it has led to thousands of deaths via heroin overdose. But the drug ring that took over the small town of Everett, Washington isn’t solely the handiwork of a drug dealer; it’s yet another tragic trail that leads back to Purdue Pharma. If they had behaved responsibly and reported Lake Medical’s fishy behavior to authorities, maybe McKnight would be alive today.

Perhaps this whole sordid situation can be summed up best with the words of McKnight’s father, who said “You kind of look back and ask yourself, ‘What if the OxyContin was not there?’”

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.