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Prescription drug abuse on the rise in Butte

Prescription drug abuse on the rise in Butte

  • Updated

A woman tells Butte police her home has been burglarized - yet only prescription pain medication is missing.

The story seemed fishy.

As investigators looked into the woman's report, they discovered her story was indeed bunk. Turns out she was selling her prescription painkillers, and only claimed they were stolen - possibly to get more. A police report "proving" the theft would allow her to have the prescription refilled.

The scam comes as no surprise to law enforcement. Prescription drugs are among the most abused substances, statistics show.

And it's getting worse.

Butte police Capt. Doug Conway said he has observed a "drastic" increase in prescription drug abuse cases in the Mining City.

"It's comparable to methamphetamine. In fact, it could be worse than methamphetamine right now," Conway said.

The Montana Department of Justice claims prescription drug abuse is responsible for more than 300 deaths per year in the state.

The department claims this makes over-the-counter medications 15 times more deadly than methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine combined.

ADDICTS ARE trying any method they can to get their hands on highly addictive drugs - like painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin.

In the past year, the Montana Standard reported numerous police reports involving people reporting their prescription drugs were stolen. It usually involved a burglary with no sign of forced entry and the only item missing are prescription drugs.

Conway admits some of these reports appear suspicious. However, unless evidence shows otherwise, police have to assume an actual crime was committed.

"Anything reported us, we have to treat as a criminal matter," Conway said. "Some of them are false, but then some of them are legitimate."

Conway added that they investigate each of these thefts and will go after those who file a false report.

PHARMACIST Shawn Powers of the Medical Arts Pharmacy in Butte said he knows people have gotten prescriptions for painkillers refilled by presenting a police report claiming their drugs have been stolen.

"I still want to question (the report), but I have to believe the police if they say (the drugs) have been stolen," Powers said.

It's just one of many red flags pharmacists, like Powers, encounter on the job. Powers says his pharmacy employees do everything they can to catch people trying to abuse the system.

For example, suspicion is raised when people try to refill their prescriptions for painkillers early. It also seems odd if a person brings in a prescription order for an unusually large number of pills.

Just last week, Powers said a woman called the pharmacy claiming she was a nurse, ordered a prescription and was going to have the patient pick it up later. The pharmacy contacted the physician the nurse claimed to work for and learned that neither the nurse nor the patient was affiliated with that physician.

Powers says they have a direct line to the Montana Drug Task Force.

"We've had people arrested at the counter," he says.

Another frightening trend is prescription drug abuse among young people. Conway said they see an increasing number of kids ages 13 -17 experimenting with these medications.

"We don't have a lot of 13-year-olds doing meth, but they are abusing prescription drugs," Conway said.

At times, it's easier for juveniles to acquire prescription drugs than alcohol.

"All they have to do is raid grandma's medicine cabinet," said one drug task force member.

THE PROBLEM of prescription drug addiction can be found from the street dwellers to prominent folks.

Powers said he's hoping the newly adopted Montana Prescription Drug Registry will help prevent these abuses. Beginning in March, pharmacists will submit detailed weekly reports on prescription drugs - and who received them. Any doctor or pharmacist statewide can check the registry to be sure patients aren't abusing the system.

"This is the best and most effective step you can take in reducing abuse," said state legislator Jon Sesso of Butte.




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