Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

January 30, 2014

Concerns expressed about increase in prescription drug abuse

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — Looking back on 2013, there is a trend that concerns not only law enforcement, but those in the medical field. That is the abuse of prescription drugs. 

Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt said this is a nationwide trend. For the sheriff's office in 2013, reports of prescription drug abuse surpassed those for meth. One of law enforcement's concerns with all forms of drug abuse is that addicts will do whatever it takes to feed their habits. Finding ways to support the habit often include the commission of other crimes. Sandholdt said there have been many arrests recently that are tied to substance abuse in some way. 

For some, feeding another addiction can include selling excess pills, such as painkillers, to those whose vice is the painkiller. If one is selling the drug, one does not really need it. In some cases, excess medications are given away, but that, too, is illegal.

"Some people do not want to believe that giving away or selling their excess meds is illegal, but it is," Knoxville Police Chief Dan Losada said. "We have people tell us about co-workers, friends, and family members asking them if they have any drugs left over after the person has a medical or dental procedure." 

The number of overall prescriptions written today has increased, according to law enforcement. 

"In my 22 years in law enforcement I have seen an increase with doctors prescribing more and more medicines," Pleasantville Police Chief Joe Mrstik said. "Unfortunately family members that don't have health care insurance or simply can not afford it can self medicate themselves using other family's medicine. Obviously this is not healthy and is illegal if law enforcement becomes involved."

Knoxville physician and current President of the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Brent Hoehns, explained that doctors take several precautions when issuing prescriptions. 

When someone is on a long-term pain medication, Hoehns said that basically creates a contract. That person agrees to get the medicine from one physician and one pharmacy. He or she also is willing to submit to drug tests and pill counts. 

The tests are helpful because they can show what is in one's system. They not only expose what else the patient is on, but if the drug prescribed does not appear in the test results, it shows that the pills are not being taken and, possibly, sold. 

"You want to help people," Hoehns said. 

Hoehns said that doctors operated with a level of trust, and initially believe that everyone who comes to them, complaining of pain, is actually in pain. Doctors do realize that for every person who is legitimately suffering, there are others who are looking for a fix. If a patient refuses an alternative pain killer, such as shot, or asks for a medication specifically by name, that can tip the physician off as to what the patient's motives are. 

Knoxville is seeing more prescription drug abuse. Pleasantville did not see an increase in 2013. Losada said that the number of cases has steadily increased over 10 years. 

"When I started it was individuals getting multiple prescriptions and abusing them where now we see more people who never had a prescription," Losada said. "Pain killers are very common but so are anti-anxiety meds.  Some people will take almost anything to see what happens."

Losada went on to say that the KPD frequently receives reports of stolen medication.  It could have happened during a burglary or a family member or house guest may find meds in a home and take a portion of them hoping the owner will not realize they are missing right away.  

"There are also doctors who will give prescriptions to people who do not need them.  We do not see a lot of counterfeit prescriptions because of systems put in place to confirm prescriptions before pharmacists fill them," Losada added. 

Five years ago, Iowa installed a prescription monitoring program. Before that time, addicts would "shop around" different pharmacies to get medications illegally. While the system has not been perfected, Hoehns said, "We're getting better." 

Such progress has been made, and fewer Hydrocodone pills are in medicine cabinets, that heroin is making a comeback, according to Hoehns. Heroin is cheaper than these pills today. The State offers classes for physicians to help track these trends. 

"Several medications are highly additive and problems arise," Mrstik added. "We encourage individuals that have old medicine, or medicine they don't need, to contact their local pharmacies for disposal. In Pleasantville, we offer free disposal of any prescription medicine. They can drop unwanted prescriptions off at City Hall during the hours of 8 a.m.-4:40 p.m., Monday through Friday." 

The KPD and MCSO will also accept unneeded medications. In the meantime, law enforcement and medical professionals will continue to remain vigilant in the fight against prescription drug abuse.