Seizures down but prescription pill abuse grows

By LACEE SHEPARD

Capital News Service

LANSING – Despite fewer prescription drug seizures in Michigan officials remain concerned.

There were 1,094 prescription seizures from 2010–2013 by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Detroit field office, said Ken Hammond, Detroit’s chief CBP officer.

The top three drugs smuggled from Canada to Michigan are steroids, hydrocodone and oxycontin.

In  2010, there were 309 prescription drug seizures, Hammond said. In 2013 the number decreased to 200.

Although, the number of seizures dropped, the abuse problem is growing in Michigan, according to law enforcement.

Prescription drug abuse has grown since 2007, said Special Agent Rich Isaacson, media and drug prevention coordinator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Detroit Division.

There isn’t a community in Michigan that doesn’t have that problem, he said.

Police can distinguish illegal drugs from legitimate prescriptions by the medicine bottle, Hammond said. Seized bottles are analyzed by to determine if the prescription is fake.

The most commonly abused medicines are those with hydrocodone, derived from codeine, said State Police Detective First Lt. Tim Gill.

Prescription drugs are acquired in multiple ways including doctors misprescribing medications, pharmacies acting as “pill mills” and abusers getting the drugs from unmonitored medicine cabinets or on the streets, Gill said.

“We see a lot of it being sold illegally. They get a prescription and sell their stuff or they doctor shop just to get it,” said Gill. “We have doctors not practicing the way they should necessarily. It’s a very highly abused drug that’s readily available on our streets.”

For example, two physicians in Warren, Hussein “Sam” Awada and Luis Collazo were charged in June with illegal distribution of prescription drugs.They allegedly distributed controlled substances, including Oxycodone, for non-medical purposes, from December 2010 through 2012.

Isaacson said while the problem has grown on a national level, many previous methods to obtain these drugs have been thwarted.

“Addicted people will go to any length possible to get their hands on these pills,” Isaacson said. “There’s been a variety of methods in the past –at one point people got their pills over the Internet.”

Laws were passed to make Internet sales more difficult, Isaacson said, and that led to more people going to pill mills and to doctors willing to write prescriptions for non-patients.

Among the dangers of abusing prescription drugs is the risk of increasing heroin use, Isaacson said.

Opiate painkillers are a gateway drug to heroin.

“When misused they’re every bit as addictive as heroin and they affect the body the same way,” Isaacson said. “It’s really an opiate addiction these people have. They become addicted to pills and oftentimes those pills become so expensive on the street and on the black market. That’s when they will start to buy heroin because they can buy it on the street much cheaper.”

Another common method of getting pills is from medication cabinets full of unused drugs.

“We advocate that patients get rid of their unused medication and otherwise get them out of their medicine cabinets,” said Larry Wagenknecht, chief executive director of the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

“We do know that kids, children, young adults and even visitors sometimes go into an individual’s medicine cabinet, and if there are unused pain killers, those are sometimes stolen and then sold on the street or misused personally,” he said.

The association sponsors a medicine take-back program, as do many police departments. So far this year it collected 600 pounds of tablets and capsules, worth more than $1 million Wagenknecht said.

Isaacson said law enforcement agencies are able to track abusers through prescription monitoring programs. If authorities notice that pharmacies are filling prescriptions at a higher volume than normal, it indicates a problem.

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