“What we’re dealing with nowadays is anywhere from high school kids to people in their 70s dealing with drugs,” said the lieutenant of the Burke County Narcotics Task Force, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. “It’s not just one age group anymore, it’s a variety. Some people are selling dope to make ends meet and some people are selling dope because they want to sell dope. That’s just the nature of the beast, unfortunately.”
See what drives people to buy and sell dope with a three-part series starting Sunday.
Prescription drugs are the current poison of choice in the area, the lieutenant explained, though meth is giving pills a run for their money. Prescription meds also are popping up on Burke County highways, according to Sgt. Mark Cline with the Highway Patrol.
In 2014, state troopers arrested 150 people in Burke County on charges of driving while impaired. Of those 150 arrests, 38 were impaired on some type of drug — often anti-anxiety pills such as Xanax and Valium, and painkillers such as OxyContin. This follows national trends, Cline said.
“What people need to understand is whether you are prescribed medication by a physician or not, you cannot operate a vehicle while impaired on this medication,” Cline said. “If they will read the warning labels adorned all over their pill bottles and the accompanying warnings provided by the pharmacy, they plainly tell you not to operate a vehicle or any machinery after taking these pills.”
In addition to DWIs, drug abuse is tied to many other crimes, said Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant.
“When I was appointed sheriff in June of 2011, I had been in federal law enforcement 22 years,” Whisenant said. “When I came back to the sheriff’s office, I noticed how many people we were arresting on various charges that were tied to drugs. I remember we had arrested 13 people for 55 property crimes in a short period of time, and I asked our Criminal Investigations Division how many of those people were substance abusers, and they said 100 percent. I asked them to keep a note about how many people we were arresting for property crimes and other crimes were substance abusers, and it was just shocking.”
In response, the sheriff’s office teamed up with local residents who have battled drug abuse and addition in their lives and families. Earlier this year, BCSO released the resulting video on DVD, and shared it with local schools and agencies.
The hope, the sheriff said, is to show where substance abuse can lead, and discourage young people from ever trying drugs.
“I just thought, we had to do something,” Whisenant said. “We can’t lock everybody up. I wanted to do something that would be long-range.”
The video is aimed at middle school students, the sheriff said. Addiction often starts with experimentation, which he hopes to head off before it starts.
“Imagine how many high school students have no intent of becoming addicts,” he said.
What is Burke County doing to reduce youth drug use? Find out Sunday in a three-part series.
The sheriff’s office also is working toward prevention with a prescription drug drop box, where folks can take their old meds to be destroyed. From its inception through July 2014, officers have destroyed 1,523.25 pounds of drugs.
Many of the break-ins BCSO deals with are motivated by drugs — people trying to dig through medicine cabinets for unused pills.
“The goal was to get as many of those unused and unwanted prescription meds out of homes to dissuade people from breaking in,” Whisenant said.
“Every one of those you get out of somebody’s house is one less that’s going to end up on the street,” he added.
Prevention such as this is increasingly important, the narcotics lieutenant said. Of the cases he’s dealt with, the lieutenant estimated perhaps 5 percent of addicts get clean.
“Drugs are the evil of the world,” he said.
Prescription drug abuse a growing epidemic April 19, 2015 GLEN LUKE FLANAGAN
» Addiction starts with abuse. In 2011, 52 million people in the US over the age of 12 used prescription drugs non-medically at least once in their lifetime, 6.2 million in the past month. Abuse of prescription narcotic painkillers sit at the heart of the epidemic.
» The abuse of prescription drugs has risen to unprecedented levels. In fact, the number of people undergoing treatment for prescription painkiller drug abuse and addiction quadrupled from 2004 to 2010. In March 2014, the U.S. Attorney General stated that the growing number of deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses is an ‘urgent and growing public health crisis’.
» In 2012, young adults aged 18 to 25 used prescription drugs nonmedically at a rate of 5.3 percent — similar to rates in 2010-2011 rates, and lower than the 6.4 percent rate in 2009, according to SAMHSA. But opiate painkillers are not the only prescription drug subject to abuse and addiction.
» According to the National Institute of Health 2013 Monitoring the Future Survey, just over 28 percent of 12th graders in the survey had abused prescription medications in the previous 12 months. Six of the 11 drugs that were surveyed were prescription drugs. The top prescription drugs abused by teens included the ADHD stimulant Adderall (amphetamine mixed salts), Vicodin (acetaminophen/hydrocodone), and cold medicines. Unfortunately, ADHD medications and painkillers like hydrocodone are often easily accessible from the home medicine cabinet.
» Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful effects to the individual and others. Drug dependence is a complex disease process and the drug abuser cannot voluntarily stop their use of illicit or prescription drugs. People who become addicted to drugs are not necessarily immoral or lacking in character; in fact, drug addiction occurs throughout the mainstream of society. Brain circuit changes may challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.
» Any opioid-based painkiller can lead to addiction. Opioid derivatives — or narcotics — are commonly used in prescription painkillers. Morphine, oxymorphone (Opana ER), oxycodone (Oxycontin, Oxecta), hydrocodone (Zohydro ER), codeine, methadone, and fentanyl are examples of the potent opiate medications at the center of the U.S. addiction epidemic. Also concerning is that many of these medications (such as Lorcet, Tylenol with Codeine #3, Vicodin) may also contain acetaminophen, which in itself can be toxic to the liver at excessive doses.
» All opioids (narcotics) will produce various levels of central nervous system depression and side effects such as drowsiness and sedation. In an overdose, you might notice stupor, coma, slurred speech, clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, and low blood pressure. The most dangerous side effect of an opioid overdose is slowed or arrested breathing. This risk is multiplied when the narcotic is combined with alcohol or other CNS depressants. If you believe someone has overdosed on narcotics, call 911 immediately.
» Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), triazolam (Halcion), or lorazepam (Ativan) are a drug class at high risk for abuse and addiction. These drugs are prescribed medically to lower anxiety or for sleep. Clues of abuse include a slurred speech, poor concentration, lowered inhibitions, and impaired coordination. Like opiates, slowed breathing are risks with benzodiazepines, especially when combined with alcohol and other CNS depressants.