Prescription pain relievers are controlled substances that have a potential for addiction. And since they can be easily misused, the medications must be prescribed.
But this requirement has not stopped the abuse of prescriptions.
According to Carbon Metro Drug Task Force agents, rising prescription med problems have likely already overtaken methamphetamine in terms of abuse.
One death per day in the state of Utah is due to prescribed drug abuse, indicated the task force representatives.
Unlike meth, pain relievers are only available through pharmacies and a black market demand has arisen with street prices of certain drugs approaching $1 per milligram. Oxy Contin can approach nearly $80 per pill and undercover agents make buys on a daily basis, confirmed the task force.
Obtaining the drugs can be difficult since the meds are only prescribed to people with legitimate needs.
To meet demand, medications are often stolen from prescription holders.
A local pharmacist indicated that people who attempt to refill prescriptions early frequently remember visits from relatives or friends of relatives shortly before of running out of the medications.
Although many of the addictive pain relievers have been around for decades, the abuse has not been well documented locally.
But because the meds are derived from opioids, the same base for heroin, the drugs carry significant risk of addiction.
Local task force agents have been watching drug trends in Utah County to get a heads up in Carbon. Authorities believe that, once a big crack down on pills begins, there will be a major rise in local heroin use. Heroin is cheaper, but the illicit drug is about as difficult to find as prescriptions.
The number of heroin cases investigated by the task force have not increased significantly.
But local law enforcement authorities expect the number to climb as prescriptions become more regulated and doctors become more aware of the problems.
According to the drug task force, there does not appear to be much overlap between prescription pain med and meth users, in part because the highs generated by the two are completely different.
Meth reportedly provides more of a rush while pain pills produce more of a euphoric state.
As far as health concerns, meth is far worst, although the street drug and prescribed medications can both take control over an individual's life.
Age wise, the task force indicates that it is mostly youth who are using the drugs. Some youth start using prescribed meds after being hurt or having surgery, while others pop the pain relievers for recreational purposes.
In addition to an internal database system to compare prescription holders, most pharmacies have access to a statewide system called the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.
The statewide system helps doctors, law enforcement and pharmacists identify potential abusers.
In place in its current form since 2006, DOPL also helps identify people who might be doctor shopping.
Pharmacies do not, however, have access to each other's databases. But when a person appears to be abusing prescriptions, the pharmacists have some authority to limit individuals on amounts, indicated the local drug task force.