Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jun 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Marty Roney


The rise of prescription drug abuse is being felt by area law 
enforcement agencies, physicians, pharmacists and prosecutors, and it 
soon may affect the way people get their medications.

The most recent figures show that in 2002, almost 30 million people 
age 12 and older used pain killers non-medically in their lifetimes, 
according to the Web site for the National Survey on Drug Use and 
Health. About 1.5 million people 12 and older were dependent on or 
abused prescription pain relievers in 2002.

"It's getting to be an epidemic," said Dr. Charles Cloutier, who has 
a Prattville family practice.

"You are almost suspicious of everyone who comes into the office, but 
you have the responsibility to treat the patient," said Cloutier. 
"It's up to the doctors and pharmacists to use our experience to weed 
people out who we think are abusing prescription drugs. If someone 
comes in my office and asks for pain pills, I won't prescribe that 
many, and very rarely will I put a refill on the prescription."

Pain pills are the most abused drugs, officials said. Cloutier 
doesn't leave prescription pads and samples of medications in his 
examining rooms. People who abuse prescription drugs will often steal 
the pads to write forged prescriptions, Prattville Police Chief 
Alfred Wadsworth said.

Prattville and Montgomery police departments each have a full-time 
investigator working prescription drug abuse cases.

"People will write fake prescriptions," Wadsworth said. "If they 
can't get a pad from a doctor's office, they will use a computer to 
create a prescription. They will also alter actual prescriptions, 
changing the numbers of pills or numbers of refills. Then they will 
pharmacy shop, going from pharmacy to pharmacy often getting the same 
prescription filled several times."

And the problem will only get worse in the future, Elmore County 
Sheriff Bill Franklin said.

"We are seeing a migration from crack and meth to pill taking, 
especially among the younger generation," he said. "Meth burns the 
body out so quickly, so drug users are shifting to things like 
hydrocodone and other narcotics."

Franklin said his department is seeing an increase of suspects found 
with prescription pills in their possession.

"There are a lot of people abusing these drugs, but increasingly we 
are seeing them sold on the streets," he said.

Jessie Phillips of Montgomery has experience in dealing with the 
abuse. Her best friend became addicted to painkillers following a 
horse riding accident.

"She had her right leg badly broken and had two surgeries to fix it," 
she said. "I noticed she hadn't been acting herself, and that she was 
still taking the pain killers months after the last surgery. It was 
very hard, but I had to tell her she was a drug addict, the same kind 
of addict who uses cocaine or methamphetamine. That was about a year 
ago. Thankfully she got help and hasn't used anything, prescription 
or otherwise, since."

Other states have taken steps to prevent prescription abuse, Cloutier 
said. Some require prescriptions in triplicate with one copy going to 
the doctor, one to the pharmacy and one to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"I would support a law that ends phone-in refills for narcotics," 
Cloutier said. "If you have a bad back and need pain pills, you 
probably should come in to see the doctor anyway. That would do away 
with one way people use the system to abuse prescription drugs."

The idea has merit, said Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville.

"I certainly think it's something that needs more study, especially 
since prescription drug abuse seems to be on the rise," he said. 
"This last session we passed a law that changed they way you buy 
over-the-counter sinus and allergy medicines, since they were the 
main ingredient in making meth."

More laws won't solve anything, said Chase Gardner of Wetumpka.

"Why should I be punished because someone else abuses prescription 
drugs?" he said. "If you have to go to the doctor every time to get 
more medicine, that's going to cost you more money. I've got a bad 
back, and from time to time I take prescribed muscle relaxants. A 
prescription of 30 pills may last me two years because I only take 
them when I need them. When I need another dose, I just call my 
doctor and he calls the pharmacy. I like it working that way."


U.S. Prescription Drug Figures

Use:  The numbers of people using prescription pain relievers 
illegally for the first time increased from 600,000 in 1990 to more 
than 2 million in 2001

Percentage:  In 2002, about 30 million people age 12 and under, or 13 
percent of the population, used prescription pain relievers illegally 
at least once in their life time

Numbers:  In 2002, 7.1 million people age 12 and older were dependent 
on or abused illicit drugs. The number of persons who were dependent 
on or abused prescription pain relievers, 1.5 million, was second 
only to the people who were dependent on or abused marijuana.
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