Trigg County Coroner John Mark Vinson said that in the past few years, he has seen a dramatic increase in prescription drug-related deaths, even stating that 90 percent of the drug related deaths he investigates have been prescription-drug related.
The coroner added that the numbers of prescription drug related deaths are started to catch up to alcohol related deaths.
“In the past three years … I’ve had more drug toxicity deaths than I’ve had in the previous 15 years,” Vinson said. “It is a growing problem.”
Prescription drugs are easily available, and can be both addictive and also valuable to traffic on the black market, said Trigg County Sheriff Randy Clark. He said that not only are prescription drugs stolen in burglaries, but sometimes people will steal them from the medicine cabinets of their family members.
And although people of all age ranges have been known to abuse prescription medication, a large number such cases involve those in their teens or early 20s, Clark added.
There are those who also order them off the internet or by mail, or who go from doctor to doctor to get multiple prescriptions for the same drug, a process known as “doctor shopping,” the sheriff said.
In addition to Lortab and Oxycontin, both Clark and Vinson are seeing an increase in the abuse of Vicodin, Xanax, Hydrocodone, Prozac and Soma.
The wide availability of such prescription medications, and the fact that they are prescribed legally, could make their abuse a larger problem than was experienced with cocaine or methamphetamine, said Vinson.
“People have the misconception that … because a doctor prescribes it, people feel as if it’s okay to consume it, and sometimes with reckless disregard,” Vinson said.
Although many local doctors are conscientious about prescribing the right amount of such medication, pain management facilities, which help patients deal with pain that can’t be helped with surgery and help instruct them on how to take pain medication, are often too expensive, said Vinson.
Additionally, the coroner said it was only the abuse of said medications he’s against, as they often work great when used as prescribed.
When someone is addicted to prescription medications, or any other narcotic, they start to have a tolerance to it, even as their bodies sometimes deteriorate from the abuse, said Vinson, adding that some of the deaths involved a cocktail of different medications, or even the mixing of medications with alcohol, which he likened to “putting gas on a fire.”
Statewide, there is a system known as CASPER that doctors and law enforcement officers have access to help see if a person is abusing their prescription medications, said Clark.
Clark is also seeing an increasing number of traffic stops where either he or deputies are finding people under the influence of prescription drugs, or are at least finding them in the vehicle.
“People think that just because you can get them from your doctor legally, that you can legally drive after taking them, but it’s still against the law,” Clark said. The stereotype of the drug addict doesn’t apply to those who abuse prescription medications, but they are still addicts, Clark added.
Ultimately, addiction is a disease, said Vinson.