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These are your neighbors on drugs

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The statewide fight against prescription drugs hit close to home on Monday. 

Just days after Attorney General Jack Conway spoke to North Oldham High School students about the dangers of prescription drugs, police raided a La Grange home suspected of trafficking.

La Grange Police Chief Kevin Collett said the number of prescription drug-related crimes has dramatically increased in the past five years.

Prescription drugs are the most common narcotic being used in the area, he said, far surpassing drugs like cocaine and heroin.

“If it hasn’t surpassed marijuana,” he said, “it’s right behind it.”

Prescription drugs are easy to access, either by doctor shopping or stealing from friends and relatives who have a legitimate need for them.

Conway created a statewide prescription drug abuse prevention task force in 2009. The task force has aided in more than 130 investigations, including Operation Flamingo Road, a bust that resulted in the arrest of more than 500 people.

House Bill 4, filed recently by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, would mandate tougher restrictions on pain management clinics and better use of the state’s prescription monitoring system, KASPER.

Other lawmakers have filed similar bills, and Stumbo calls the issue a bipartisan effort.

Conway hopes legislation will pass to make using KASPER mandatory for all prescribers.

The system tracks controlled substance prescriptions dispensed within Kentucky, and Conway’s office is helping Florida establish a similar system.

Many prescription drugs flow from Florida to Kentucky, although other states and mail-order pharmacies are also problems.

Collett said KASPER could help reduce prescriptions filled by those who doctor shop — the strategy of visiting multiple doctors and obtaining several prescriptions, often filling them at different pharmacies so they go unnoticed.

While doctor shopping is prevalent, Collett said theft of prescription drugs is another issue.

“We’re seeing break-ins where they’re not just stealing jewelry, they’re stealing prescription drugs,” he said.

Or, people steal them from their elderly relatives, who are reluctant to report a family member.

Pills are easier to obtain than it is to cultivate marijuana, he said, and people tend to think pills are safer because a doctor prescribed them.

Dispelling that myth is why Conway is touring high schools across the state. 

“We’re losing more people to prescription drug abuse than we are losing to traffic accidents,” he said.

In 2009, 82 people per month died from prescription drug abuse in Kentucky, he said.

A startling number are teenagers, like a 15-year-old girl from Spencer County who died in May. 

Dan Orman, assistant superintendent for Oldham County Schools, deals with the prescription drug problem every day. He oversees the school’s drug and alcohol suspension program

Once suspended, Orman meets with each student — and the student’s parents. He’s scheduled more than 200 of those meetings in less than three years.

Orman told students during Conway’s presentation that the prescription drug problem isn’t happening in a faraway city they’ve never heard of — it’s happening here in Oldham County.

Collett has seen the prescription drug problem impact teens, too.

“I haven’t seen anything where kids are so reckless with their bodies,” Collett said.

Collett said there is no age limit on the prescription drug problem — housewives abuse stimulants for energy, he said, and parents take their children’s Aderol as a cheap diet pill.

But Collett said one particular drug is skyrocketing in popularity: Opana.

It seemed like overnight that the focus switched from OxyContin and meth to Opana, he said.

Opana, brand name for oxymorphone, is twice as strong as OxyContin and has effects similar to morphine.

Collett said the drug’s extended release form is particularly scary because it is easy to overdose — even crushing the pill to make it easier to swallow is dangerous.

 The Opana warning label cautions breaking the tablets down “leads to the rapid release and absorption of a potentially fatal dose of oxymorphone.”

Prescription drugs are a big problem, Collett said, and one that local police need help handling.

Police can target those trafficking in prescription drugs, he said. 

But people stealing from relatives and doctor-shopping are much harder to combat with current resources.

“It’s a problem we can’t get our arms around,” he said. 

And, while pending legislation might cut down on some prescription drug abuse, it also gives police more regulations to enforce — without funding to fight it.

That, Collett said, makes this drug war hard to win.