A prescription for troubleLocally, there’s an increase in heroin use. “We have a big problem that we see on the horizon and we need to get [information] out there as quickly as possible,” Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson told the Echo Press on Tuesday. “We can’t ignore it.”
By: Amy Chaffins, Alexandria Echo Press
Locally, there’s an increase in heroin use.
“We have a big problem that we see on the horizon and we need to get [information] out there as quickly as possible,” Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson told the Echo Press on Tuesday. “We can’t ignore it.”
“Heroin is here and the addicts that are using it started with prescription drugs and that’s what we’re seeing here,” said Scot Umlauf, commander of the West Central Narcotics Task Force and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
Prescription painkillers in particular are a gateway drug to heroin, Umlauf said.
“Painkillers are opiates, or opiate-based, the same thing as heroin. The reason for the change from prescription drugs to heroin is that the heroin is cheaper than the prescriptions. It’s not as available at this point, but it is cheaper,” he said.
On the street, Umaluf said, agents and informants are handing over as much as $5 per pill for Vicodin, and about $40 per Oxycodone pill. A hit of heroin can go for $20 to $30.
Prescription drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and others are in people’s homes – a place that allows addicts easy access to the opiates.
Larson said, “We don’t want to say that these prescriptions are all bad. But, if they’re not used as they were intended to be, and it’s not under the supervision of a physician, then we’ve got problems.
“People don’t equate [opiates] with street drugs or the problems that come along with street drugs,” Larson said. “More and more people are becoming addicted to opiates and it’s easier to get on the streets once their supply is cut with the prescriptions.”
Larson added, “It needs to be taken seriously and that’s my biggest concern.”
“Opiates will cause dependency,” Umlauf said. “There’s no stopping it. You can’t just shut it off.”
From 1991 to 2010, the number of prescriptions provided for painkillers in the U.S. increased from 75 million to 209 million.
Larson said, “That answers part of the question as to why, since 2000, there are four times as many people checking themselves into treatment centers for heroin and prescription opiate addiction.”
“We’ve noticed a trend over the years,” Umlauf said. “What was an East Coast problem is moving this way. We’ve had overdoses and overdose deaths here in Alexandria.”
In Douglas County over the last three years, there have been at least six drug-related overdose deaths and at least four people who survived an overdose, according to Umlauf.
Locally, people have been caught shooting up heroin behind the steeringwheel in a vehicle and passing out in parking lots or overdosing in retail store restrooms.
“It’s a public safety concern,” Umlauf said.
Douglas County Hospital Emergency Room Doctor Dave Odland said he has noted an increase in cases of prescription drug abuse.
On the prosecution side, Larson reported that from 2011 to 2012, felony-level sale or possession of prescription drug charges have increased from 12 to 36.
Larson said when he started prosecuting, it was rare to have a prescription drug sales case, but now they’re routine.
“I don’t think many people realize giving a controlled substance prescription to someone else is a crime. It’s considered a [drug] sale in Minnesota. Even giving it away for no compensation is a felony,” Larson said.
Larson offers this advice to parents and grandparents: “Keep [your prescription drugs] locked up and away from teens because that’s what kids are using now. Second only to marijuana, they’re using their parents’ prescription meds.”
More teens are reportedly abusing prescription drugs because they believe the myth that these drugs provide a medically safe high, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Dr. Odland said they’re safe for those they’re prescribed to, under the supervision of a physician.
So what can be done?
Umlauf said, “Limiting availability will help limit the use.”
That can range from people locking up prescription drugs at home to stopping cases of overprescribing.
Physicians and pharmacists have access to the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program, a statewide database used to identify people attempting to “doctor-shop” to get the opiates or forging prescriptions. Law enforcement can access the database with a search warrant.
Larson and Umlauf said cases of overprescribing by doctors are rare here.
“The doctors are out there to help people but they do get taken advantage of. We get to see the people who take
advantage of [doctors],” Umlauf said.
“Addicts become experts of manipulation,” Larson said. “Drug seekers are profoundly excellent at manipulating people, including physicians.”
The purity of heroin is on the rise, according to law enforcement.
“Historically speaking, when you have purity this high and [heroin] this cheap, you get a lot of people addicted to it. Then, the purity is cut and the street price is jacked up. And what is the direct result of that? Crime. That’s when the thefts go up, the burglaries go up and so, we’re going to have a lot more crime indirectly related to this stuff.”
What can residents do?
If you notice your prescription drugs are missing, residents are asked to report it to law enforcement, (320) 762-8151.
Prescription drug abuse
•70% of the prescription pain medications illegally used by teens were obtained from a relative or friend.
Monitoring the Future National Survey, 2008
• It is a felony to give your own or anyone else’s prescription medication to another person.
• In 2011, 6.1 million people age 12 and older used prescription drugs non-medically.
2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
• Prescription drug abusers often turn to heroin because it is cheaper than prescription drugs.
West Central Narcotics Task Force
• Over the last three years in Douglas County, there have been at least six drug-related overdose deaths and at least four people who overdosed, but survived.
West Central Narcotics Task Force
DOUGLAS COUNTY ATTORNEY DRUG PROSECUTIONS
2011: Felony Drug Charges
Other Felony Drugs: 29
2012: Felony Drug Charges
Other Felony Drugs: 13
Methamphetamine = Methamphetamine Sales or Possession Cases
Prescriptions = Sales or Illegal Possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), morphine, alprazolam (Xanax), amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin), etc.
Other Felony Drugs = Sales or Possession of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana (in excess of 42.5 grams), MDMA (ecstasy), hallucinogenic mushrooms, etc.