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Abuse of prescription drugs continues to grow

76 deaths in Hall County have been attributed to accidental prescription drug overdose

POSTED: June 21, 2013 1:10 a.m.

In combating modern drug abuse, one of today’s deadliest and most addicting problems comes in a bottle.

In a Monday arrest of three men, the quantity of the anti-anxiety drug Alprazolam seized was enough to reach a $2,000 street value, or $20 per 100 pills, authorities said.

With a doctor’s signature required per prescription quantity, it begs the question as to how dealers acquire the drugs in those large quantities.

“There’s different ways,” said Lt. Scott Ware, who heads the joint Gainesville Police Department’s and Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad.

“Some people go to what we call ‘pill mills’ — pain clinics. Some people get them by ‘doctor shopping,’ where they’re going doctor-to-doctor without another doctor’s knowledge and getting duplicate prescriptions in the same period of time, and some people have a legitimate prescription, and they just sell it,” Ware said.

The doctor-shopping practice can be monitored and tracked through the coordinated efforts of pharmacies and doctor’s offices, Ware said.

Another source of illegal prescription drugs, Ware said, has been pharmacies beyond the border.

“One of the things we have been seeing is ordering prescription drugs from pharmacies outside the United States, countries like Mexico and Canada,” he said.

It’s a practice, Ware said, that the FDA has warned is both unlawful and dangerous.

“When you’re buying drugs online from Canada, Mexico, realistically, you have no idea what you’re getting when you order them,” he said.

For prevention, Ware said it’s likely enforced “on a larger level,” by postal inspectors and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Ware said that the expensive nature of a prescription drug habit can lead to other types of drug abuse.

“The biggest drug being bought and sold illegally right now is Oxycodone, a pain pill, and they typically sell for a dollar a milligram. The most common dosage you see is 30 milligrams, so 30 dollars for one tablet. So if someone has a 10 a day habit, that’s $300 a day,” Ware said. “So what we’ve been seeing is eventually, they’ll crush them and inject it, and then that escalates to heroin use, because it’s cheaper.”

Prescription drug abuse, health advocates warn, can be as dangerous, if not more dangerous than its illegal street drug counterparts.

J.P. Banks, who heads the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County, said that from 2010 to 2012, there were 76 deaths in Hall County caused by accidental prescription drug overdoses, according to death certificate records.

Those same statistics seem to indicate, Banks said, that deadly addiction begins in adulthood.

“There were no overdoses below the age of 18 in that period. And most usually, those who died were middle-aged people. There are various suppositions as to why, but there is no real clear answer,” Banks said.

What is clear, however, is that prescriptions are on the rise.

In Hall County alone, the dispensing of Oxycodone has increased by 666 percent from 2009 to 2011, Banks said, citing a May presentation by Dr. Tennent Slack.

But for kids who have illegally used prescription drugs, the most common way to acquire them isn’t from a drug dealer, but the medicine cabinet, Banks said.

“We know from statistics that 70 percent of prescriptions that are abused either come from home or a friend’s home, so either taking them out of their own medicine cabinet, or a friend’s medicine cabinet,” he said.

Banks and Ware both urged residents to use the Prescription Drug take back boxes, at the sheriff’s office and police department, and cited their effectiveness.

“Obviously people are using it, because you name it, and every kind of medicine you can imagine has been discarded there,” Ware said.

Banks said 164 pounds of drugs were collected on the last take-back day in April, and that the coalition is aiming to eventually establish a permanent drop box in the northern and southern parts of the county.


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