A recent report showed the 45694 zip code (Wheelersburg) is in the top 10 in the United States of America in the number of prescriptions written for a certain prescription pain medicine, oxycodone, which brought about Porter Township Trustee Bob Walton, Jr. to call for a town hall meeting.
“If you have a community and your zip code ranks in the top 10 of the country for originating oxycodone or Oxycontin prescriptions, then you have a criminal enterprise going on in your community,” Hale said. “If you have Oxycontin and oxycodone mills, and people aren’t going to a doctor and shelling out $300 or $400 to get a prescription for Valium or a prescription for Xanax, then drive another two hours north, to go through all of that trouble for Percocet. They’re doing it for oxycodone. That is what is fueling these pill mills. That is what is fueling crime in your community.”
Several speakers from the medical field, counseling field and law enforcement came together to address what they call an epidemic of illegal activity involving prescription medication.
Hale asked a rhetorical question in response to reports that the Ohio Pharmaceutical Board is involved in looking at the issue statewide.
“I’ve heard tonight that there are state agencies who have opened their eyes. It took them 10 years to see what was happening with this drug?”
Lisa Roberts, a nurse with the Portsmouth City Health Department told the audience that overdosing on prescription pills has replaced auto accidents as the number one cause of accidental death in Ohio.
Roberts made a Power Point presentation featuring graphs, showing a sharp increase over the last several years of prescription drug usage in the state.
“In 2006 was the first time that the number of deaths as a result of motor vehicle crashes went down just a little bit,” Roberts said. “But unintentional poisonings moved up into first place.”
Unintentional poisonings caused by prescription medications was the focus of a seminar held at the Scioto County Welcome Center in October.
Scioto County Coroner Dr. Terry Johnson displayed graphs showing Scioto County ranks second in the state in deaths caused directly by drugs and deaths as a result of drug usage. Johnson said he began looking at the data when he took office, and has tracked it ever since. For example, in 2008, numbers from the coroner’s office show 21 direct drug deaths and 23 drug-related deaths in Scioto County.
“We are second only to Montgomery County in the death rate from this particular problem,” Johnson said. “This doesn’t surprise me though, because I know that Montgomery County autopsies everything that hits the coroner’s blotter — everything, 100 percent. They also do a complete toxicology, which means they catch everything. Scioto County is one of the few counties that actually autopsies drug deaths, and so, guess what? We get a big number. That’s the way things are going right now, things are really, really bad, but we’re not worse off than our neighboring counties I think.”
The Director of the Counseling Center, Ed Hughes told those present that if 100 people experiment with nicotine, which Hughes said is the most addictive of all drugs, 80 of those people will become addicted. If 100 people experiment with alcohol, 10 percent will become addicted, and out of 100 people who experiment with opiates (the category that includes oxycodone) 25 to 35 percent will become addicted.
“Prescription pain killer addiction, again, the changing face — we are starting to see it crosses all cultural, ethnic and economic groups. We’re seeing a younger population, which means we’re also seeing more developmental disruption in their lives,” Hughes said. “We’re not talking about somebody who has a job, completed college, is developing an alcohol problem when they are in their 20s or 30s, and are at risk for losing their job because of their drinking. We’re talking about someone who may get introduced to this drug in their teen years, again, becoming dysfunctional, unable to finish school, not going to college, not being able to become employed, having all kinds of developmental problems. So that means they are having an impact on not only themselves, but also on their families and on the community.”
Hughes said people who are hooked on pain medication that can’t get enough through legitimate prescriptions will have to begin to purchase the drug from an illegal dealer.
“Oxycontin, as a drug, is costing, on the street, $1 a milligram. The average number of milligrams per day by a person who has this addiction is 120 milligrams a day — $120 a day to try to sustain this addiction,” Hughes said. “Those dollars are initially going to come from the person trying to raise the money for it or from their family in some form or another.”
The most poignant moment of the night came when Barbara Howard described the death of her daughter.
“The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life is bury my daughter on Oct. 7 of this year,” Howard said as she wept openly. “She was brought up here to a pain clinic in Wheelersburg by what the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) told me was a drug sponsor. These sponsors take so many people to these doctors, they pay for these doctor visits, in turn took her to the pharmacy in Columbus, that was just recently shut down, East Main Street Pharmacy, paid to have her prescription filled on Oct. 2, and died Oct. 2, that night. My daughter was dead from an accidental overdose.”
Several members of the audience asked what they could do to get the ball rolling to attempt to put an end to the illegal use of prescription medications in the community.
“There is not one agency — not one entity that is going to be able to solve this problem,” Hughes said.
Walton looked directly into the eyes of the citizens attending the meeting, who had asked what action can be taken by the community to attack the issue, and said, “We’re going to have to get creative. We’re going to have to clean our own house.”
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.