DRUGS: How big is the problem?

Wanda English Burnett

“Kids who can’t pass science class have figured out how to take regular (legal) medicines and transfer them into something dangerous,” Osgood Town Marshal John Hegge told those gathered at a Youth Worker’s Café, sponsored by the Ripley County Council Against Substance Abuse.

Marshal Hegge gave a powerpoint presentation on the Abuse and Misuse of RX or prescription drugs, which he referred to as Pharmaceutical Diversion.

The problem of misuse of prescription drugs ranks high in Ripley County as 30% of drug charges in 2008 were related to this type of drug. Hegge believes that figure has risen sharply this year.

The drugs Hegge referred to are perfectly legal when taken for the problem they are prescribed for - in the exact amount and manner prescribed. However, that is not what is happening. Pills are being crushed, snorted and shot directly into the vein for a high.

The new drug of choice is easily accessible and can provide a drug addict the high they’re looking for. It can range from hydrocodone (vicodin, loratab, lovcet) to benzodiazepines such as xanax, valium and diazapam.

While these prescription drugs have medical value, they are being widely abused with the results being deadly, according to Hegge, who has extensive training in drug interdiction. Since he has been addressing the issue in Southeastern Indiana he said he’s seen 24 deaths with families saying they knew their loved one had a problem, but didn’t think they’d wind up dead.

The problem isn’t new - it dates back to the Civil War era where Hegge says morphine was widely prescribed.

He explained one of the worst forms of abuse with pharmaceuticals occurs at health care facilities. Hegge noted that nursing personnel will substitute prescriptions with baby aspirin or water and then use or sell the real drug prescribed. “This is the most sinister form of diversion and worthy of serious prison time,” he told the group.

Here you have a helpless sick person not getting the medicine they need and a drug addict or seller making a profit on them.

Hegge said those involved with the drug scheme will “doctor shop” going to multiple doctors to get the same medicines, which are either taken illegally and/or sold.

Obtaining prescription drugs can be lucrative with a fentanyl patch going for up to $100 and pills such as vicodin having a street value of $6-$10 each. Hegge said a common addiction level is 15-20 pills per day - which can be an expensive habit.

Street prices vary according to the pharmaceutical available.

See Something - Say Something was a headline on the Powerpoint. “Educate yourself and others,” Hegge encouraged. He said the problem is huge and consumes time that many small departments simply do not have to devote to the rising problem.

Marshal Hegge noted from the Osgood Police Department alone so far in 2009, 46 drug cases have been tied to pharmaceuticals with 80% of those involving “doctor shopping.”

Hegge referred to the escalating problem as a “nasty animal” asking those attending the luncheon held at the Ripley County Department of Children Services to be on the alert.

Over the counter medications are also a big problem. One of the main ingredients to manufacture methamphetamine is psuedophedrine found in many over the counter cough and cold medicines.

Attending the event on November 24 were a variety of professionals ranging from employees of the prosecutor’s office, SIEOC Head Start, CASA representatives, schools, Tyson Library and more.
Paula Goodpaster, coordinator for the Ripley County Local Coordinating Council encouraged the community to be involved. The group is addressing the increasing misuse of prescription drugs in the county with specific goals and objectives outlined.

Marshal Hegge is a member and executive officer of the group. For more information call 812-212-8406.

Pictured above Tara Rogers with SIEOC Head Start, checks out paraphernalia shown by Osgood Deputy Marshal Josh Cady at a Youth Worker's Cafe, sponsored by the Ripley County Local Coordinating Council held November 24 at the Ripley County Department of Children Services, Versailles.