The Hartford Sentinel – October 10, 2011
by Joe Johnson
OxyContin, Vicodin, Zoloft, Xanax, Paxil, Soma.
Glance through the family medicine cabinet and these names may appear on a few plastic pill bottles inside. Fairly common painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, they can be found in many homes throughout Kings County.
But these prescriptions are quickly becoming the top narcotics of choice in the United States.
Recent statistics show that prescription drug abuse killed more than 37,000 people across the country in 2009, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s just a fraction of the estimated seven million Americans suspected of abusing their medications in the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Public health experts and local law enforcement agree this is a major problem, not just statewide, but in Kings County.
“On the street enforcement level we see full bottles of Vicodin, Xanax and Soma all the time,” said Sgt. Jeff Torres with the Kings County Narcotic Task Force. “They turn up just as often in white-collar crimes as they do in teenagers’ backpacks. The reality is that many normal people are in situations where they abuse pills.”
Figures from the Kings County Coroner’s Office show that 30 people have died locally in the last five years from an accidental prescription drug overdose. A third of those were also taking illicit drugs at the time of their death.
Records also show that medications were used in 10 suicides from the last half decade.
But these numbers can be misleading. Deputy Coroner Tom Edmonds explained that these figures include only deaths where prescription drugs could be directly linked as the cause. Cases where medication abuse or addiction were a contributing factor, like when the use sparks a heart attack or a traffic fatality, are left out.
Family practice Dr. Daria Majzoubi with Adventist Health said using a prescription drug without supervision is a huge medical risk, with side effects as far-reaching as delayed reaction time, seizures, heart attacks and suffocating to death from lack of oxygen to the brain.
“One of the biggest dangers is getting hooked on these medications,” Majzoubi said. “The body gets used to having the drugs in your system. Then you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
“It’s worse when people mix these drugs with alcohol or cocaine. The body takes far longer to get rid of the narcotic. Suddenly a single dose becomes as potent as a double dose. Then if the drug increases the body’s resistance to another substance, the user may take way more of the drug than necessary to counter it.”
But it’s more than just burned-out junkies using meds to get high. In many cases, the users are everyday citizens who find themselves addicted after treating an injury.
“People get hurt and are prescribed something to deal with the pain,” said Brenda Randle, alcohol and other drug program administrator with the Kings County Behavioral Health Department. “The next thing you know, they’re addicted to it.”
Pain, Randle explained, is more than just physical discomfort. Some people feel pain from losing their jobs or dealing with the tough economy. Taking pills recreationally becomes a way to escape that feeling.
“Prescription drug abuse is in the closet,” Torres said. “People think that since the pills are legal, then it’s OK to use them. They don’t carry the same stigma as buying some nasty-looking crystal from a nasty-looking dude.”
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