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Front Page » March 20, 2007 » Local News » Prescription drug problems plague county
Published 3,121 days ago

Prescription drug problems plague county

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Sun Advocate reporter

Carbon Metro Drug Task Force officer Robb Radley explains the inherent dangers of the prescription drug OxyContin. Radley reported that along with methamphetamines, misuse of prescription medications has become a focal issue for the task force.

Ongoing events within Carbon County have led law enforcement and mental health officials to focus their efforts on the increasing problem concerning the abuse of legally prescribed narcotic pain relievers.

"In more and more investigations prescription medications are present at the time of arrest," said Carbon County Metro Drug Task Force officer Robb Radley. "At this time with the exception of methamphetamines the misuse of prescription drugs has become the focal point of what we do here at the task force," continued Radley.

According to the office of National Drug Control Policy the non-medical use or abuse of prescription drugs remains a serious public health concern. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines three classes of prescription drugs that are most commonly abused:

•Opioids, which are most often prescribed to treat pain. This category includes, codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) and morphine.

•Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples include: barbiturates (Mebaral and Nembutal) and benzodiazepines (Valium and Xanax).

•Stimulants, which are prescribed to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity. Examples include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).

The national office goes on to report that many Americans benefit from the appropriate use of prescription pain killers, but when abused they can be as addictive and dangerous as illegal drugs.

The Synthetic Drug Control Strategy addresses the extent of and the problems associated with prescription drugs abuse. Prescription drugs account for the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs.

According to Radley a lot of what is seen locally stems from this scenario, "grandma or grandpa get a legitimate prescription and they take what they need for a couple of days and then put the script away in the medicine cabinet. It remains there until a child or grandchild finds the medication and decides to experiment. This scenario is the method in which a lot of these drugs make there way into the junior high and high schools."

While persons age 65 and older make up only 13 percent of the population they account for one-third of all medications prescribed.

Radley reported that another major problem with prescription meds stems from the fact that many economically challenged individuals see that there is money to be made from selling these narcotics on the street.

"They sell there prescriptions and profit from the misery of others. This is something we are working very hard to deter," said Radley.

Opioids work on the body by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors which are found in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. When these drugs attach to certain opioid receptors they can block the perception of pain. Opioid can produce drowsiness, nausea, constipation and depending upon the amount of drug taken, depress respiration.

Opioid drugs also can induce euphoria by affecting the brain regions that mediate what is perceived as pleasure. This feeling is often intensified for those who abuse opioids when administered by routes other than those recommended.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, OxyContin often is snorted or injected to enhance its euphoric effects while at the same time increasing the effects, while at the same time increasing the risk for serious medical consequences, such as opioid overdose.

Taken as directed opioids can be used to manage pain effectively. Many studies have shown that the properly managed, short-term medical use of opioid analgesic drugs is safe and rarely causes addiction which the institute defines as the compulsive and uncontrollable use of drugs despite adverse consequences or dependency which occurs when the body adapts to the presence of a drug and often results in withdrawal symptoms when the drug is reduced or stopped.

Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps and involuntary leg movements. Additionally, the institute reports that a large single dose of an opioid could cause respiratory depression that can lead to death.

"We have seen a lot of what is called 'farming' in the youth population these days," said Radley. According to the task force officer this occurs when adolescents go into their parents or grandparents medicine cabinets and take opioids along with other types of medications such as Valium.

"This is very dangerous because when mixed it is very easy to overdose on these medications," continued Radley.

Data suggest that Carbon County is uniquely suited to have problems with prescription medications. According to the United States Health Department many reports of OxyContin abuse have occurred in rural areas that have housed labor intensive industries, such as logging or coal mining. These industries are often located in economically depressed areas, as well. Therefore, people for whom the drug may have been legitimately prescribed may be tempted to sell their prescriptions for profit. Substance abuse treatment providers say that the addiction is so strong that people will go to great lengths to get the drug including robbing pharmacies and writing false prescriptions.

"Fraud is a big problem right now," commented Radley. "Between doctor shopping and lying to doctors about the amount of pain a patient is in, individuals are taking advantage of a system aimed at helping those in pain. What is important for local citizens to realize is that prescription fraud is a felony that will be prosecuted in this area," continued the task force officer.

East Carbon Police Sgt. Phillip Holt spoke to the fact that police officers are paying a lot more attention to prescription bottles during traffic stops and in other police related situations.

"We make sure the dates and medications within the bottle are correct and we never did that before," reported Holt. "We also monitor street trafficking activity, but this is a difficult crime to make an arrest on."

Prescription drug abuse poses a unique challenge because of the need to balance prevention, education and enforcement with the need for legitimate access to controlled substance prescription drugs.

"Prescription drug abuse is not a new problem," according to Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "But one that deserves renewed attention. It is imperative that we make ourselves aware of the consequences associated with the misuse and abuse of these medications."

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