Part III: A look at substance abuse, awareness, treatment and recovery in Emery County
The Emery County drug task force has been busy promoting awareness in Emery County. The prescription drug use and abuse has become epidemic in the county. Sgt. Tom Harrison and Detective John Barnett will be visiting all the churches and schools in the area to promote awareness of the problem.
"We need some help to control this problem," said Sgt. Harrison. "We are trying to visit every entity we can think of and every school and church. We are going to attend safety meetings at both of the power plants. People need to be aware of prescription drug abuse. The problem is worsening in our county.
"People need to lock up their prescriptions in a safe place. Kids are taking medicines right out of their medicine cabinets and out of friends medicine cabinets. They are taking prescriptions from grandparents houses where medicine isn't locked up. Pain pills are coming up missing at an alarming rate. Some kids are taking the pills and selling them to their friends or using the medications themselves. These aren't just pain pills. Pills of every type and for various conditions are being taken without any regard for the effects these medications might have," said Harrison.
Det. Barnett said, "The number of accidental overdoses in our county has increased dramatically. People have a legitimate injury and then they get hooked on the drug and continue to take it even after their condition has improved. Some people will go to serious lengths to continue to get their hands on these drugs. People will take too much of a prescribed medication. They will self medicate themselves and they just take too much and never wake up. We are concerned about these serious consequences for our county residents. Lives are being threatened by the use of these prescription drugs. We believe these drugs are over prescribed; not just in our county, but all over the state. They are too easy to get, which leads to big problems.
"These prescription drug problems can affect everyone. It doesn't matter your income or life circumstances. It crosses all walks of life. Per capita Emery County is one of the highest in the nation with the prescription drug problem. Statewide in 1999, there were 50 deaths from drug related factors. In 2003 that number rose to 200 deaths and in 2006 there were 476 drug related deaths; of those 476, prescription drug overdoses totaled 307.
"In 2007, there were six deaths in the county, In 2008 so far there have been six accidental or intentional deaths due to prescription drugs. In the past seven years, there have only been three deaths due to cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin. Of all the people who died from prescription drug overdose, half of them had a legal prescription.
"The number one prescription drug abused statewide is methadone, followed by oxycontin and lortab, with a fentanyl patch being fourth. Patches are used to kill pain in older patients. They will have a patch or what is called a lollypop for the dispensing of the pain medication, said Barnett.
Sgt. Harrison said, "The main message we want to put out is to be responsible with these drugs. They are very harmful drugs even though they are prescribed by a doctor, they can be very dangerous if they are not taken as prescribed. Take them exactly as directed. Don't self medicate and don't take medication before it's time for another dose. It's just too easy to get too much of the drug in your system and you might never wake up. Read and follow the directions. If you don't think you need 30 lortabs, then just tell the doctor that you want five and you'll see how it goes. Oftentimes the pain will subside long before you've used up 30 lortabs. You can become addicted with just one episode of taking pain medication. Don't think you are immune to this, it can happen to anyone at anytime. The brain will tell the body that it needs this medication and people will stop at nothing to get their fix.
"If you don't use up all of your prescriptions, don't leave them lying around. Lock it up, or call the sheriff's office at 381-2404 and we will pick up unused medication and we will dispose of it properly. Ninety percent of the burglaries in our county are thefts of prescription drugs or theft of items to sell to buy prescription drugs.
"If you have surgery, then don't advertise it, keep quiet. There are those out there who watch for signs of people having surgery, or babies or accidents; anything where they might be given pain medication. Quite often these people looking for prescription drugs will steal from their own families. Nothing bothers them except getting more of the drug they are addicted to. It just consumes their lives.
"If you can stand the pain then don't take pain medication. If you do take it, take it only as the doctor prescribes. The drugs are there for a reason to help if needed, but be aware of abuse. Some people are more tolerant to pain and others can't tolerate pain at all. Those people are susceptible to becoming addicted to pain medication. You are taking a big chance, by taking pain medication; you just don't know who might become addicted.
"If you have pain medication around the house and the neighbor comes over and says they hurt their back, well, don't help them out by giving them medication or you will have committed a felony for distribution. If you are found in possession of a prescription medication that wasn't prescribed specifically to you, you are in violation. There are legitimate needs, but there is always a risk involved.
"Kids need to be aware how harmful drugs can be. Kids think they are invincible, but they aren't, they are very susceptible to drug addiction.
"There was a kid last year who had a little green pill that someone told him would create a feeling of being high like on marijuana. But it was really medication to control seizures. Luckily we removed the pill from the child before he could take it.
"Heart medicines, blood pressure everything like that is prescribed for a certain person with a height and weight and their personal health taken into consideration. When medicine is abused then you don't know what effects it could have on someone just randomly taking medications.
"Some people will pulverize pain medication and snort it. Doing this could cause severe reactions. There are some people who have died from snorting these medications on their first use. Sometimes you don't get another chance to be stupid. Stupid once could mean your death and that's just what kids don't understand. That's what we want parents to help us with. Educate your children on drug use and abuse. Kids just don't understand the dangers.
"There's a lot of drug activity going on right now. Some people are buying the prescription drugs, some people are stealing them; but it's out there and we need to be aware of it and do what we can to eradicate this drug use among our young people and not just them, everyone," said Sgt. Harrison.
Det. Barnett said, "Hydrocodone and oyycodone are in the opiate family of drugs just like heroin. It is highly addictive. Some of the people using pain killers will turn to heroin, because it is similar in nature. We have bought heroin here in Emery County. There are 2,500 kids per day nationwide that try a prescription drug that is not prescribed to them.
"Kids who become involved in drugs will probably at some point enter the juvenile criminal justice system where they could serve time in detention and have to do community service for their offenses. Driving under the influence of pain killers packs the same penalties as drunk driving. It is a class B misdemeanor which could include jail time.
"If your kids are involved in drugs, you need to help get them off the stuff. It's possible they can go on and lead productive lives. But, they will need treatment.
"We are more than happy to do a drug presentation for anyone who requests it. Just call us at the sheriff's office to set something up.
"We encourage parents to know their kids and to know their friends. We encourage kids to let us know if they have come into contact with prescription drugs at school or wherever. I know it's not popular to rat on your friends, but you could be saving their life. You have to have the strength to help them get the help they need. There are good kids out there who do stupid stuff. There are some people out there who think if it came from a doctor and it wasn't bought off the street that it's OK. Well, it's not," said Det. Barnett.
Sgt. Harrison said, "There is treatment out there. You have to genuinely want to quit. You have to get off the stuff for yourself. Some kids take drugs for a high or peer pressure, they think it's cool, but it's not. The majority of kids aren't on drugs.
"These drugs can affect everyone, teachers, coal miners, clergy, everyone can get into trouble with prescription drugs. We just want everyone to understand how serious this is. We don't want to scare people, but we want them to be responsible," said Harrison.
Call the Emery County Drug Task Force hot line with any drug tips at 381-2888.