Police officer: 'We see people robbing each other to get pills'

2014-04-24T00:00:00Z 2014-04-24T15:22:06Z Police officer: 'We see people robbing each other to get pills'By CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

One of the largest prescription drug collection efforts in Billings netted nearly 600 pounds of expired drugs, and police expect another significant haul Saturday when residents are urged to turn over their unused drugs.

The Prescription Drugs Take Back Project, one of three scheduled this year, is designed to raise awareness of prescription drug abuse and get easily accessible — and potentially deadly — drugs out of homes and medicine cabinets.

The collection of drugs, which is expected to include everything from pain killers and blood pressure medications to vitamins and supplements, will have a street value worth thousands of dollars, said Billings Police Officer Tom Keightley.

Statistics show that 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family. Additionally, by the time Montana students are seniors in high school, 23 percent have abused prescription drugs, according to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Montana teenagers.

“We see so many crimes that are related to prescription drugs,” Keightley said. “We see people robbing each other to get pills. We see so many home invasions and that’s what they’re after. We see break-ins at pharmacies.”

Just this week, a 22-year-old Billings man with a drug addiction admitted to breaking into Walgreens and stealing prescription painkillers that he intended to use to pay a drug debt.

Last year, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office filed 351 felony charges for criminal possession of dangerous drugs, up from 198 in 2012 and 171 in 2011.

Property crimes — theft, robbery and burglary — in Yellowstone County also increased significantly.

Theft charges were up more than double from 49 in 2012 to 101 last year. Robbery charges increased more than fourfold from an average of 15 in 2011 and 2012 to 61 robbery charges filed in 2013. Burglary charges were also up: 88 last year, compared to 54 in 2012 and 57 in 2011.

This increase in property crime is due partly to a spike in drug use, particularly methamphetamine, according to County Attorney Scott Twito.

Thieves may be stealing drugs to use themselves or to sell. A single 100-milligram OxyContin pill goes for $100 on the street. OxyContin is one of the many opioid painkillers that are effective at relieving pain when used as directed by a doctor, but are also highly addictive.

Based on past drug Take Back Projects, Keightley said about 10 percent of the volume will be painkillers, which he said are “critical” to get off the streets. About 25 percent of the collection will be over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and Motrin; 10-15 percent will be vitamins and supplements; and the balance will be medications to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and thyroid issues.

The public is welcome to drop off all prescription drugs. Needles, lotions and liquids will not be accepted.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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