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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Prescription drug abuse a problem

Friday, September 28, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Sheriff Lane Perry and Capt. Ricky Walker of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office think prescription drug abuse is a growing problem locally and that the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday is a good opportunity for people to safely dispose of unwanted, unused prescription drugs.

The event, scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Henry County Sheriff’s Office on Kings Mountain Road.

Walker said in the recent drug probe that nearly 30 of a total of 158 charges involved prescription drugs. Those charges involved mostly distribution, but also possession, he said.

“We saw everything from oxycontin, to roxycontin, to hydrocodone, to oxycodone, and a few schedule III drugs like Lortab,” Walker said.

“I think it’s a very serious problem. It’s being experienced everywhere. I don’t think we’re isolated,” Perry said. “Keeping medications locked up is of great importance, and discarding medicines when the medical problem is over is very important.”

The prescription drug problem can involve such things as abuse, addiction, thefts of medications and illegal resale, Perry said.

Steve West, crime analyst with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, said that since Jan. 1, there have been reports of a total of about 32 break-ins, larcenies and thefts from motor vehicles in which prescription drugs were taken.

“A lot of times, it’s family members that’s committing the larcenies,” he said.

The prescription drug problem crosses generational lines, according to Perry. “There is experimentation with young people,” he said, adding they do not view prescription medications as negatively as illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine. And some adults abuse or develop addiction through legitimate use of prescription drugs, he said.

“One of the things becoming a big problem,” Perry said, is that some prescription drugs “are not just taken by mouth. They are crushed and snorted. It completely changes the effect of the drugs. It has a much more mind-altering effect.”

Sharon Buckman, clinical services manager with Piedmont Community Services’ Martinsville-Henry County office, said some prescription medications will produce an immediate high if crushed and snorted, but they don’t have that effect if taken orally as prescribed.

“We have seen a definite increase in people who come in asking for services who are abusing pain medication,” she said.

A lot of times, those people have a physical injury — for example, from intensive or repetitive labor or from an accident — who develop an addiction to the prescription medicine. When the medicine no is longer prescribed by a doctor, they try to get it off the street, she said.

Buckman said 77 opiate-dependent people from Henry County and Martinsville were seen out of Piedmont Community Services’ M-HC office in the last year.

Prescription drug abuse also “is a financial burden on families,” Buckman said. “People are spending money on drugs instead of food, electricity and rent. It’s harder for them to work when they do have jobs. They don’t feel like going to work and are more prone to accidents.”

Katie Connelly said that according to local surveys, annual nonmedical use of prescription drugs by teens in Henry County and Martinsville is in line with the national average of 7.4 percent. Downers and uppers 30-day use by Martinsville-Henry County teens is higher than the national average, she added, but she didn’t immediately have those specific statistics. She is a community organizer for Piedmont Community Services and coordinator of the CHILL (Communities Helping Improve Local Lives) Youth Task Force.

Connelly provided a number of other statistics from various sources. They follow.

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, the majority of both teens and young adults obtain prescription drugs they abuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge. In one survey, 51 percent of high school seniors said that opioid drugs other than heroin (for example, Vicodin) would be fairly or very easy to get.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the problem of prescription painkiller overdoses has reached epidemic proportions. Consider that:

• Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the United States in 2008. This is more than three times the 4,000 people killed by these drugs in 1999.

• In 2010, about 12 million Americans aged 12 or older reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.

• Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.

• Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.

• People in rural counties are about two times as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.

Stephen J. Pasierb, president and CEO of The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, stated: “19 percent of teens have abused Rx medicines to get high.” He also stated: “Every day, 2,500 teens use a prescription drug to get high for the first time. 12- to 17-year-olds abuse prescription drugs more than they abuse ecstasy, crack/cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined! Only one in three report learning about the risks of prescription drugs from their parents.”

According to the report “Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medicine,” 29 percent of teens “believe prescription pain relievers — even if not prescribed by a doctor — are not addictive,” and 40 percent of teens agree that prescription medicines, “even if they are not prescribed by a doctor, are ‘much safer’ to use than illegal drugs.”

Connelly said the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is sponsored locally by the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, the Martinsville Police Department, Drug-Free MHC, HEY (Helping Engage Youth) and CHILL.


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