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Officials, medical community join forces

Friday, July 6, 2007

Illegal abuse of prescription drugs is becoming a serious problem for law enforcement and the medical community.

The Clay County Prosecutor's Office, Clay County Sheriff's and the Brazil City Police departments are joining forces to reach out to the medical community and heighten their awareness about the dangers of illegal selling and fraudulent use of prescription medication.

"We are taking steps to make the medical community aware of what is happening on the streets with prescription medication abuse," Clay County Prosecutor Lee Reberger said Thursday about a letter sent out by his office to local doctors in the community. "We want them to know what law enforcement and the legal system is experiencing and that we are listening and willing to help them stop this problem."

"Doc shopping" -- where an individual travels from one doctor to another without providing each doctor with their patient information from prior doctor visits for the same ailment or prescription and receive multiple prescriptions -- is becoming a major issue that officials hope to address by providing information to local doctors.

The letter informed doctors who write prescriptions, sometimes with multiple refills, in good faith to be aware that there are individuals who will sell the prescription itself and not take the necessary medication; alter the prescribed medication or the dosage amount; fill the prescription for their own personal abuse of the drug or sell the pills for up to $10 each on the street. In addition to this being illegal, officials say this practice may cause illness and death to those who purchase and fill the altered prescriptions.

"If they can get away with it once, they become brazen enough to do it again," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said, adding that statistical information about the level of activity in illegal prescription drug abuse isn't available.

Chief Deputy Kim Jackson says it is because a person caught and charged with a single drug charge doesn't cover all the illegal activity the person might have participated in before being caught.

"Illegal use of drugs, any kind, leads to all types of illegal activity by the abuser," Jackson said. "People steal to get money to buy drugs, which means thefts, burglaries, shoplifting. There are cases of domestic abuse, vandalism and the list goes on and on."

Brazil City Police Chief Terry Harrison believes drug abuse is such a problem that one of his first official acts was to appoint a patrolman from the department to work with the Clay County Drug Task Force.

"This is an issue that needs to be addressed now and you don't waste time," Harrison said. "We're all here for the same thing, the same reason, to stop and prevent drug problems in Clay County.

"Having a K-9 unit is an important tool, which is why we will implement that program as soon as possible."

The recent rise of finding prescription drugs in local schools, either for sale or use by students, is a major concern. Anti-drug programs will be available through both local law enforcement agencies during the upcoming school year that will highlight information about the dangers of prescription drugs.

"They get (possession) of prescription drugs at home or at another family member's home that may have been forgotten about, aren't being closely monitored by an adult or just haven't disposed of yet and take them to school," Brazil City Police Captain Dave Archer said. "Then they sell them or abuse the drugs themselves."

Which is why officials urge families with prescription medications in their homes to throw away any old or non-used medication in medicine cabinets.

"If you don't know what to do with the drugs, call your doctor's office or local pharmacy to learn how to properly dispose of them," Heaton said. "It's for the safety of your children. Plus it keeps them out of the hands of a burglar if ever your house is broken in to."

Each community deals with drug-related issues in different ways, and many do not want such a public display for fear of a bad image, but local officials believe that Clay County citizens want to know about the problem because they are willing to help stop it.

"We get anonymous reports of drug activity all the time," Heaton said. "We prefer someone actually fill out a report, but we take the calls. People need to understand that it just takes longer to build a case against an individual."

Enlisting the help of the public is an essential tool in battling drug-related crimes, according to Harrison.

"People need more information to know what to look for," Harrison said. "On every street in this county on every day there is a drug problem that needs to be addressed. That is why we are working on inter-agency cooperation between our departments."

With the legal community reaching out to the medical community, the prosecutor's office hopes to stop the abuse of legal prescription drugs and keep them in the hands of the people who need them for medical purposes.

"We want people to know that we are out there dealing with these issues trying to prevent crime," Reberger said. "It might sound naive, but maybe if the people that are abusing legal prescriptions know that we are watching, maybe they'll behave."

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