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Headline addresses serious problem

October 23, 2011
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News

Earlier this month, a report was released by the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network. The headline, carried by newspapers and other media around the state, varied a bit, but the message was the same: "Drug dealers buying prescription painkillers from Ohio senior citizens."

The scenario goes something like this: Having trouble making ends meet-paying their bills and eating-- senior citizens across the state are being approached by a drug dealer who convinces his senior citizen mark to sell their pain medication (Oxycontin, et al). That drug dealer may take them to the doctor where the elderly patient complains of pain and gets a prescription for a potent painkiller, then take the patient to the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions and buy the medications when they walk out the door.

"These people, they really know no boundaries. They have no ethics in what they'll do to obtain their pain medication," said Thomas Gorman, assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for Kentucky and southern Ohio. He said the recruitment of seniors as a source is one of many tactics used by drug dealers around the country.

But senior citizens, when caught doing such activities, have been busted and found themselves in court for selling their painkillers to street dealers.

"Drug dealers around Ohio are developing new sources for prescription painkillers by buying them from senior citizens, sometimes as the patients leave pharmacies," said the report. Ohio's prescription painkiller epidemic is continuingand may be getting worse. Because these prescription drugs are harder to get, many addicts are moving to heroin because it's cheaper and easier to access. And the problem has been reported in Dayton, Youngstown and Toledo.

Why are senior citizens involved in this market? They need the money to make ends meet, to live. But at what price? What if their teenage grandchild died of an overdose from the opiates they sold to a street dealer? They would probably never know because they aren't thinking of faces and people and the consequences of selling those pills to someone else.

Drug overdoses now kill more people than do crashes, according to published reports. The Ohio Department of Health advises that of 1,400 deaths due to drugs in 2009, 750 of those deaths involved heroin and medications like oxycodone, morphine, methadone and hydrocodone. Some reports say the painkillers are easier for teens to get hold of than beer in Ohio's Scioto County. And one in 10 babies born in that county is addicted to drugs. The state is concerned about the statistics. The situation has become so serious a public health emergency was declared last year.

The Columbiana County Coroner report in 2008 advised that there was a significant jump from 37 drug and alcohol-related deaths in 2007 to 69 in 2008: East Liverpool, 9; Salem, 8; Columbiana and Wellsville, 7, and the other cities, less.

Of those deaths, 47 were male and 22, female. The four most prominent drugs were ethanol, cannabinoids, cocaine, and morphine. Drug-related deaths peaked between ages 30 and 40. In 2009, drug and alcohol-related deaths were: East Liverpool, 12; Salem, 14, and Wellsville, 8. Drugs related to deaths were marijuana, alcohol, morphine, hydrocodone (Vicodin) and cocaine.

From the cradle to the grave, there are consequences for substance abuse. It's never a good idea to take someone else's prescribed medication, but a street dealer won't care about that. Don't assume that because the problem is so bad in Scioto County it isn't a problem here in Columbiana County.

"Drug and alcohol deaths are a growing problem in Columbiana County, Ohio and the nation," advises the Coroner's report.

The state has a new law that cracks down on pain management clinics, aka pill mills, which health officials say are contributing to hundreds of overdose deaths in Ohio each year. The DEA recently suspended prescription-writing for some doctors in southern Ohio.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Nov. 12, the American Medicine Chest Challenge will be held in communities across America to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. You can drop off your unwanted, unused or expired medications at Salem Medical Center which is across the street from the hospital or at the main entrance of East Liverpool City Hospital, 425 W. Fifth St. Last year law enforcement officers at this event collected 670 pounds of solid, liquid and aerosol medications and 27 pounds of pill containers. For more information about this event, contact the Columbiana County Drug Task Force (330-424-0309), Columbiana County Health Department (330-424-0272), Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board (330-424-0195), Family Recovery Center, 330-424-1468; East Liverpool City Hospital (330-386-2006 or Salem Community Hospital (330-332-7152).

For more information about substance abuse, contact Family Recovery Center at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, FRC is funded, in part, by ODADAS (Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services) and United Way of Northern Columbiana County.



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