Prescription Drug Abuse Called an Epidemic in Kentucky

Prescription Drug Abuse Called an Epidemic in Kentucky

In 2005, prescription drug abuse killed more than 8,500 Americans, and it is estimated that more than 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs every year. In fact, the DEA reports that opioid painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin now cause more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.

While the problem exists in every state, Kentucky led the nation in the abuse of prescription drugs last year, according to the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy. Prescription drug abuse is particularly rampant in Eastern Kentucky. Last year alone, at least 485 people in Kentucky died from prescription drug overdoses. Medical examiners’ records indicate that the drugs most commonly found in those deaths were methadone, oxycodone (found in OxyContin), hydrocodone (found in Vicodin), alprazolam (the anti-anxiety drug Xanax), morphine, diazepam (Valium), and fentanyl.

“It’s an epidemic and I’m afraid we’re losing a whole generation,” Beth Lewis Maze told Maze is the Chief Circuit Judge for the 21st Judicial Circuit in Kentucky. “These pain medications are so highly addictive that these young people are digging themselves a very deep hole.” Maze said she sees people from all walks of life at the newly formed drug court. “I see good kids from good families, doctors, lawyers, teachers,” she said.

Greenup County Coroner Neil Wright says that prescription drug abuse is “public enemy number one.” Half of the 50 deaths he logged last year were drug related, and 85 to 90 percent of them involved prescription drug overdoses. “It affects everybody,” he said. “I don’t care, rich, poor, educated or non-educated, it affects everybody.”

“We are drowning in a sea of prescription medication,” said Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper, speaking of the many evidence bags he sees that are filled with prescription pill bottles and cash seized during drug arrests. He said that the number of crimes committed by addicts looking for money to buy painkillers have skyrocketed.

At Shepherd’s Shelter in Mount Sterling, KY, run by Pastor Wayne Ross, almost all of the 50 residents are struggling to overcome prescription drug addiction. Kay Fultz, 36, is currently a resident at the shelter and said that she was taking as many as 50 oxycodone pills a day and was selling drugs to support her habit.

“It just starts out as a party drug, you know, every now and then,” Fultz said of oxycodone. “Once you start doing it every day, I mean it just takes compete control of your life.” She also said it’s very simple to obtain, but that once you’re addicted, the costs are severe. “I’ve lost everything. I’ve lost everything and it’s so easy to do.”

Ross asked his residents where they obtained their prescription drugs, and every person in the room had either traveled to Florida to buy them or had purchased them from someone who had bought the pills in Florida. The state has become a notorious destination for addicts and drug dealers in the southeastern US, as pain clinics flourish there and some of them dispense hundreds of drugs after a cursory medical exam.

Fultz explained that you can go to Florida and get everything you need within 24 hours. She added that the medical exam she was given at a Florida pain clinic was not professional at all, and that she was able to obtain drugs by pretending to suffer from pain. “I mean, they look at your MRI, ask you how you are feeling—‘I’m feeling pretty bad’—and you leave there with pills,” she explained.

Local police, federal agents, and medical officials in Florida are targeting prescription drug sales, and they recently passed a law to start regulating and monitoring pain clinics late next year. Kentucky and most other states already have such monitoring laws in place, making it much more difficult for users and addicts to obtain large amounts of prescription drugs.

Sam Kissick, a Kentucky resident who recently lost his 22-year-old daughter Savannah to prescription drug overdose, said, “The drugs, they don’t discriminate and it can happen to anybody. You may never have any idea that your child is exploring or fooling with prescription drugs at all, until they’ve already gone too far with it.”

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