Prescription drug abuse hits home

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 9, 2010

NATCHEZ — Adams County is home to a growing prescription drug abuse problem.

Hiding relatively out of sight, compared to cocaine dealers, are networks of people who purchase and sell prescription drugs, rather than traditional narcotics, Metro Narcotics Commander David Lindsey said.

“At least 50 percent of our cases concern prescription drugs,” Lindsey said. “Back in 2003, it was not nearly as bad.”

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said prescription drugs are a big enough problem to sink in a lot of his resources.

“We are clamping down on it,” Mayfield said. “I don’t want people to think we are going to look the other way because it is not heroin.”

People often choose prescription drugs because they know the people they are purchasing them from, Lindsey said.

Mayfield said the personal connections are often the reason it is tougher to catch prescription drug abuse.

“They are not out on the corner selling to just anyone,” Mayfield said. “Prescription drugs are sold within cliques that are very low key.”

Prescription drugs are much cheaper than cocaine or marijuana, and Lindsey said that is another reason people turn to them.

“Lorcet can go as low as $2 a pill, and they are by far the most prevalent pill in the area,” he said.

Lorcet is a hydrocodone-based narcotic used to relieve moderate to severe pain.

Mayfield said prescription drugs tear families apart just as any other drug.

“You can go into houses and see the conditions prescription drug abuse has created,” Mayfield said. “You can see a parent who has spent their last dollar on Lorcet rather than food for their children.”

Dealers are often people who get the drugs prescribed to them from a doctor, but turn around and sell them.

“What happens is they go and lie to doctors about their need for the drugs,” Mayfield said. “When they use that doctor up, they go to another one, and then they start spreading out to nearby towns like Woodville and Fayette.”

Once nearby doctors stop prescribing, the dealers continue to spread out to bigger towns, including Jackson, Mayfield said. Lindsey said Metro Narcotics has confiscated Lorcet pills from as far away as Mexico, where it can be bought over the counter.

Lately, Lindsey said Metro Narcotics agents have been confiscating bulk prescriptions, like pharmacies get. The thought is that people are breaking into out-of-town pharmacies and bringing the stolen goods to Adams County to distribute, Lindsey said.

Another method Lindsey said he has seen involves forgery. Some people alter a prescription, while others go far enough to steal a whole pad from a doctor’s office.

The dealers typically think since they are not dealing heroin, it isn’t going to affect them as severely.

“The mindset is, ‘I’m selling prescription drugs, how much trouble could I get in?’” Lindsey said. “What they don’t understand is that it carries the same sentencing guidelines.”

Sentencing depends on the schedule of the substance. Scheduling is based from I to V. The lower the schedule, the less legitimate use the drug has and the more likely one is to become addicted to it.

Sentencing for schedule II controlled substance Adderall, which is in the same schedule as cocaine, is a $10,000 fine for one dosage unit along with one to four years in prison if charged with a felony or up to one-year imprisonment for a misdemeanor and a fine of $1,000. A dosage unit is one pill.

If caught with two schedule II pills but less than 10, the fine increases to a maximum of $50,000 and two to eight years’ imprisonment.

Lorcet, a schedule III, nets an individual a $1,000 fine for anything less than 100 pills. If charged with intent to distribute, the sentence and fine increase. A dealer can get up to 30 years and a $250,000 fine. The minimum sentence for less than 100 pills is one year.

Lindsey said pharmacies and physicians are cooperating with efforts to crack down on dealers. Most pharmacies have camera equipment set up, so Metro Narcotics has access to pictures and any information a person gives to the pharmacy. Pharmacies do turn in people suspected of forging prescriptions or abusing the substances, Lindsey said.

Many buyers often become addicts through legitimate means, Mayfield said. It starts by being prescribed by a physician, but they don’t follow the guidelines set by the doctor and end up physically or psychologically addicted.

“Ninety-eight percent of physicians are careful in their prescribing these drugs to make sure people do not become addicted,” Mayfield said. “But a lot of people will not follow the doctors orders, and get themselves addicted.”

Once the doctors stop prescribing, the formerly legal patients have to go to the black market to continue using.

Lindsey said abusing prescription drugs has always been a problem, but over the last five years it has gotten worse.

The best way to help fight the problem, Mayfield said, is to call in tips.

“So many people are afraid to get involved because they are worried about their name getting back to the dealer,” Mayfield said. “But you can leave a completely anonymous tip with Metro Narcotics.”

Metro Narcotics can be reached at 601-442-8333. The organization is made up of four ASCO deputies and one Natchez Police Department officer.