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Prescription drug abuse gains notice

CONYERS -- While alcohol and marijuana top the list, a growing trend in legal prescription drug abuse has local and state officials taking notice.

Rockdale County Coroner Stephen Boyle recently completed training that focused on abuse of prescription drugs and said Rockdale County is not completely devoid of the issue.

"It's not like there's an overwhelming number of deaths from it (in Rockdale County), but we're seeing an (increase) in cases where there's an accidental overdose, as it relates to legal drugs," Boyle said.

The drugs of choice tend to be pain pills and psychological drugs, like Valium and Xanax, according to Boyle.

The coroner said, in one sense, hearing about the uptick of prescription drug abuse was not surprising since it is discussed when he was in medical school.

"But in the sense of actually having to investigate individual cases, it really brings it home that it's going on right under our nose," Boyle said.

In fact, Rockdale County Sheriff's Office responded to an armed robbery call March 19 where the victim claimed he was attacked, robbed and needed medical attention. RCSO officials later determined the 41-year-old man fabricated the story in order to receive prescription drugs from the hospital.

Prescription drugs are relatively easy to get, and 25- to 55-year-olds make up most of the overdose deaths, Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency Director Rick Allen estimated.

"Because all they need to do is go to a doctor's office and say, 'I have a back ache,' and get a bucket-load of pills," Allen said.

Allen added, "People think because a doctor wrote it, it's legal, it's safe to take. But they don't realize they're taking seriously dangerous drugs."

OxyContin, commonly referred to as "legal heroin," has become quite a popular drug to abuse, according to Allen. He explained OxyContin is powerful in relieving aches and pains, but is also highly addictive. The lure for many users is not in pain relief but the high that is achieved through the drug.

Legislators are considering a law, Senate Bill 418, that would create a database to monitor use of Schedule II, III, IV or V controlled substances. The bill passed the Senate before Crossover Day, which gives it a chance of becoming law before the end of the legislative session.

Allen added that a disturbing trend now is that more minors are abusing prescription drugs, citing news accounts of kids having parties and dumping drugs in a bowl, or pharmacy students who get addicted while in school.

"It's just easy to get," Allen said.

Allen suggested keeping prescription drugs locked up and away from kids. Allen said in this day and age of heavy media influence, children are becoming more exposed to drug use and cautioned that even middle and elementary school students can abuse the drugs.

"It doesn't take long," Allen said.