Pubdate: Sun, 28 Apr 2002
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Waco-Tribune Herald
Author: Mike Anderson


Drugs prescribed by doctors to treat everything from anxiety to 
hyperactivity to the pain associated with terminal illnesses are 
finding their way onto the streets of Waco in growing numbers, local 
narcotics officers said.

Chief among the prescription drugs officers are finding is the 
painkiller hydrocodone, which also goes by the brand name Vicodin, 
said John Haigood, commander of the Waco-based Agriplex Drug Task 
Force. In the last two months, officers have seized at least 140 
units of the drug during raids, Haigood said.

"What I'm finding, during your typical search warrant, when you are 
expecting to find marijuana or other street drugs, we are seeing more 
and more prescription drugs packaged up to sell on the streets," 
Haigood said.

Other prescription drugs officers are finding during raids include 
Valium and Xanax, depressants used to treat anxiety and panic 
attacks; Ritalin and Adderall, often used to treat hyperactivity; and 
OxyContin, an extremely strong painkiller used for chronic pain, such 
as that associated with terminal illnesses.

Many of these drugs are addictive, according to the National 
Institute on Drug Abuse. An NIDA report said 4 million Americans 
admitted using prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in 1999, 
the last year data was available.

Bob Wilkerson, a captain with the Texas Department of Public Safety 
narcotics unit, said often those addicted to opium-based drugs, such 
as heroin or morphine, will turn to prescription opiates like 
hydrocodone when they have trouble getting hold of their street drug 
of choice.

"The diversion of drugs from legitimate to illegitimate use has 
always been a problem," Wilkerson said. "Now it seems much more 
common due to those people who are addicted to other things using 
them to tide them over during lean times."

Connie Pippin, program director for the adult chemical dependency 
program at the DePaul Center, said she sees two main types of people 
come through for drug treatment. There are those who were given 
legitimate prescriptions to treat, for instance, pain but then have 
trouble getting off the drug once the medical condition subsides, she 
said. Then there are "poly-substance users," those who abuse a 
variety of drugs, she said.

"We see people come through who might drink alcohol and take 
substances such as heroin or marijuana, and then they are going to 
use hydrocodone," she said. "They are going to take whatever they can 
get ahold of."

Wilkerson said some of the prescription medicine that makes it to the 
street is diverted from legitimate prescriptions. Often in these 
cases a person will take a prescription for 10 pills and alter it for 
20 or more, he said.

Much of the abused medicine is brought into the country from Mexico, 
he said, a problem not made easier by contradictory state and federal 

Under federal law, U.S. residents are not prohibited from bringing 
into the country controlled prescription medicines if the 
prescription is signed by a Mexican doctor, said Tela Mange, a DPS 
spokeswoman. Such an act is forbidden by state law, but because 
federal authorities at the border are not required to enforce state 
law, people have been known to take advantage of the relative ease of 
getting a Mexican prescription, Mange said.

Wilkerson said thefts at pharmacies contribute to the amount of 
prescription medicine diverted to the street. In one local example, 
thieves broke into a pharmacy in Robinson on Nov. 15. Robinson police 
Lt. Tracy O'Connor said the thieves took more than a dozen types of 
prescription drugs.

"They knew exactly what they were looking for," he said. "What they 
took was in bulk form, not in small amounts. They didn't take just a 
little here and a little there. They took boxes of drugs. They 
cleared off entire shelves. We are talking about thousands upon 
thousands of dollars in street value. I can't even tell what it was 

Robinson police have arrested a McLennan County man in connection 
with the theft, and his case is pending, he said. Police may issue 
warrants for other suspects as well, he said.

"I doubt we will ever get the narcotics back," he said. "From some of 
the information we received, they may have been taken to Austin or 
Dallas for distribution on the streets. They were probably out of 
town before the next day."
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