The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 3, 2011

Illegal use of painkillers becoming a big area problem

By WARREN DILLAWAY - warren@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

— The overpowering addiction to prescription painkillers has swept the nation and is burrowing its way into the lives of many county residents.

“It’s a totally different world in law enforcement,” said County Sheriff William Johnson, who has been in office for 18 years.

“Probably 95 percent of our calls are drug (or alcohol) related. That’s just the economy and the world we live in,” Johnson said.

The intensely addictive effects of Percocet, oxycodone and other prescription drugs, combined with a poor local economy, has created a perfect storm of abuse — and profit.

A person may have a surgery and is prescribed painkillers and then becomes addicted, or realizes he or she has the opportunity to earn a few bucks on the side. A pill that is purchased, by prescription, for less than $10 may get many times that on the open market.

“You are sitting on a gold mine,” Johnson said of people who may be out of work, have prescription pills and need money.

A myriad of issues face law enforcement, prosecutors, doctors and pharmacists when people spiral toward addiction to prescription painkillers.

Johnson said some people claim their house was burglarized and then get another prescription so they can feed their addiction or sell the pills.

The rapid increase in burglaries also tends be drug related.

“A lot of burglaries are going straight to the medicine chest,” he said.

“The 1,000 pound gorilla in this is the pharmaceutical industry,” Ashtabula County Prosecutor Thomas Sartini said of constant television advertisements of drugs designed to relieve every possible ailment.

“The practice of medicine has changed,” Sartini said, alluding to the pressure by insurance companies to get people discharged from the hospital and of doctors to prescribe medication so that can occur.

Sartini said it is sometimes hard to get a doctor to change a prescription after a patient has become addicted to a drug.

Dr. Chris Adelman, acting director of Medicine at Glenbeigh in Rock Creek, said there are many red flags doctors should be aware of when people arrive at their door seeking pain medication. Adelman, who also is an emergency room doctor, said during a 12 hour shift there will be an average of three drug addicts seeking medication.

Adelman said an important tool for doctors and pharmacists is the Ohio Automatic Rx Reporting System, which records all prescriptions requested by an individual at any pharmacy in Ohio.

“I just go online and look them up,” Adelman said. He said the people are turned down if they have multiple prescriptions that are inappropriate.

Pharmacists use the same tool to help control the growing problem.

“We use it on a daily basis,” said Maria Fowler, owner of Hoffman’s Pharmacy in Ashtabula.

“On a weekly basis, every pharmacy has a dozen (inappropriate prescription requests). There are definitely a lot of people out there who are doing that,” she said.

Many are easy to catch, Fowler said.

“It’s unusual to have a person in the southern part of the county, seeing a doctor in Cleveland and filling a prescription in Ashtabula,” she said

“There is no class distinction in this kind of thing,” Sartini said.

Another problem related to the drugs is they can lead to other more addictive drugs.

“Oxycodone and Percocet lead to heroin,” Sartini said.