5 Cocke Co. deaths blamed on overdose of same little-known painkiller

NEWPORT, Tenn. (WVLT) -- There's an urgent warning from an East Tennessee police chief after five deaths in his community since January 1, and they're all due to the same powerful prescription painkiller.

The drug is called OPANA, and even if you don't live in Newport, you need to heed this warning.

Volunteer TV's Stephen McLamb talked with one young woman who's fiance just died from an OPANA overdose.

Arielle Gregg was on top of the world, looking forward to a life with her love, Dustin Sneed.

But on Feb. 28 that world collapsed when Dustin died.

Arielle says she chose to speak to our for one reason, and one reason only.

"I just want to get the word out that it can happen to anybody. Don't think it can't happen to you."

At just 18 years old, Arielle was looking forward to enjoying a life with the love of her life, Dustin.

But in February, Dustin died from the misuse of the prescription drug OPANA.

Arielle says, "We were going to get married."

But not before Arielle's world collapsed.

She's not alone. Newport's police chief says the community is facing a serious problem.

Newport Police Chief J. Maurice Shults says, "We're having every indication that at least five local deaths are associated with this OPANA misuse"

The latest was just three days ago on Friday.

Chief Shults says OPANA is an extended-released, morphine based prescription pain killer that's meant to be swallowed whole. The problem is that those who abuse it often crush and snort it.

Chief Shults says, "It's a loaded gun it's it's what it's like when you crush these, misuse them."

The misuse is widespread according to Arielle who says drugs are being sold at the local high schools where she attended.

Arielle says, "Even people come to his funeral were messed up on pills and everything."

For her, the loss of Dustin is more than just a loss to her, her family, and his family. But also for his daughter Dusty.

Arielle says, "She was born three days after he died. It's just been really hard because it's supposed to be a mom and dad thing."

Chief Shults hopes the tragedies will serve as a wake-up call to what's going on.

"Please tell your children, tell your neighbors, talk about it at church, where ever you go let's get the word out."

And for Arielle, Dustin's one time was one too many.

"It just wasn't something he done. He just tried it and it can happen to anybody, just trying it once."

Areal hopes that by seeing what she's going through it will make people think twice about trying OPANA just for kicks.

One note, the painkiller does have an extensive warning on the label, and is only for those who suffer moderate to sever pain on a 24 hour basis.

It's actually stronger than Oxycontin.

Chief Shults says it works when it's used as intended, but the problem is it's misuse can be fatal.

You can find out more about OPANA, it's proper uses and and it's dangers at OPANA.com.