Reality of prescription drug abuse in the area

By Tara Morgan - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Take a look in your medicine cabinet tonight. What kind of old prescription drugs do you have just lying around the house? A family member or friend could easily walk off with them to feed a toxic craving. One recovering addict we talked to did just that.

Prescription drug abuse -- we've seen it in the headlines linked to the recent deaths of celebrities like actors Corey Haim, Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy, but far away from the Hollywood spotlight -- the same dangerous addictions are a lethal problem in our own community.

"We probably see three four five a day in our emergency room, adolescents? Adolescents, at least one a week that's that bad that has to go to the ICU and be intubated," said Doctor Martin Buxton, Medical Director for the Family Counseling Center for Recovery.

Middle schoolers, college students, even medical professionals can and have become addicts.

"I work with recovering physicians it's one of the things I do with recovering nurses and there's no immunity," Dr. Buxton said. "There is a really palpable change in attitude with people in my view not having appropriate fear and concerns about what they're taking."

Buxton says Oxycotin is a top choice for some abusers followed by Percocet, Hydrocodone and Oxycodone to name a few. For one recovering addict, we'll call her "Sarah", it was Vicodin.

"I was taking 25 or 30 pills a day," said Sarah.

"Sarah" worked as a local health care provider.

"It was very easy and that's what's so scary," she said.

She says she got what she wanted through her job and her own doctor.

"I had a chronic pain issue and I think my doctor didn't hesitate at the time to give me as much Vicadin and Percocet that I needed," Sarah said.

When her doctor cut her off, Sarah says she found other ways to feed her addiction, like faking an injury to get a prescription. She would go to the ER, but didn't stop there.

"I started the doctor shopping, looking in my friends' houses, all the drug cabinets and stuff like that," she said.

She also found what she needed on the streets. Sarah says she once bought Methodone and Percocet illegally at six dollars a pill.

"What I did was just as bad as a heroin addict," she said.

The 36 year old mother of two says not once did she think she could overdose and die. A mentality shared by many abusers, says Dr. Buxton.

"You have a lot of kids who really just study and see themselves as these little pharmaco-wizards who think they can stay out of trouble because they really study and know these medicines," Dr. Buxton said.

But here's the harsh reality: according to the office of the chief medical examiner of Virginia, between 1999 and 2008, nearly 3,000 deaths in the state were linked to prescription drugs. The majority were accidental and most involved males. Of those deaths, more than 300 occurred in metro Richmond, which includes Henrico and Chesterfield. Almost 45 percent of the deaths involved one of four drugs, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone or Methadone. Dr. Buxton says it's hard to tell who will survive.

"The only thing that gets people in recovery is pain and misery," Dr. Buxton said.

Sarah started abusing prescription pills in 2003. It wasn't until four years later, after she was arrested on the job for felony prescription fraud, she got help. She's been in recovery three years.

"I still have so much guilt it's like I can't forgive myself," said Sarah.

Dr. Buxton says you can remove temptation by cleaning out medicine cabinets. But you can't force an addict to get treatment.

"You just make it very clear in an un-angry neutral way what their choice are and then you've got to sit back and hope they don't die until they get the message some will die," said Dr. Buxton.

"Sarah", who's now on probation for three years, was convicted of a lesser charge, a misdemeanor, because of time spent in rehab and treatment. If you need help or know someone who does, call the Family Counseling Center for Recovery at 354-1996.

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