Prescription drug abuse reaching frightening proportions

Pharmacist Traci Graham at Innes Street Drug in Salisbury
Pharmacist Traci Graham at Innes Street Drug in Salisbury

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Some are calling it a modern epidemic and instead of drugs being the cure, they are the cause.

Hundreds of people are dying due to prescription drug overdoses every day in the US, and yet the black market for the drugs is getting bigger, and taking in all segments of society including educated professionals.

"We're constantly responding to deal with overdose deaths, overdoses," Chief Deputy David C. Ramsey of the Rowan Sheriff's Office told WBTV.  "There's nothing safe in it."

"There's medicines out there that people will come across the counter and you know, it's frightening," added pharmacist Traci Graham on Innes Street Drug.

Doctor Orrin Walker is said to be at the center of a pain pill ring that took in a second doctor and several teachers from a local elementary school, and then on Tuesday in a separate case two optometrists in Charlotte were busted on drug charges.

"Previously it might have been cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, but now it's the prescription drugs," Ramsey added.

Why have pills like hydrocodone suddenly become like gold?

"People at one point in time might have had a legitimate medical necessity to be on prescription pain medication, and then when they are stopped prescribing those drugs the addiction continues and they have to go find other methods to get those drugs, and a lot times that involves going to the streets and getting it any way they can," said Ramsey.

"They have no way to get the drugs legally so they start self medicating themselves," Ramsey added.  "They go to people they know that are getting the drugs legally, or have other methods that they're getting the drugs, and then they distribute them to these individuals."

"It is highly addictive, when your body wants it you've got to have it, you'll do whatever it takes to get it, break the law, even worse," added Graham.

Graham, like many in her profession, says she can tell that abuse of prescription drugs is rising, and it's frightening.

"We're on edge more than we ever have been before, we're wanting to check, check out prescriptions and things more than ever because you want to be careful," Graham said.

"When I first started pharmacy one of my mentors took me to the side and showed me a particular medicine and said 'I want you to be afraid of this because people will kill you for this', and that put the fear of God in me right there from the very beginning," Graham added.

One expert told WBTV that the drugs are appealing across a broad segment of society so that professionals, people who should know better, are as likely to taken in as anyone else.

The relatively low price and easy availability of prescription drugs are part of the allure, but that availability will be soon be restricted when it comes to hydrocodone.

On Monday, October 6, hydrocodone will be reclassified from Schedule II to Schedule III, meaning that access will be restricted.  Patients will need a new prescription for each order and refills will not be allowed.

Pharmacist Mike Fuller speculated that the new restriction could be one reason that there seems to be a surge in cases involving hydrocodone right now as those who are addicted try to stock up before the new classification goes into effect.