Stoppin' Poppin' Pills - A local county's deadly problem

Stoppin' Poppin' Pills - A local county's deadly problem

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - More deaths and more drug addicts are being found in one local county, and it's all because of the amount of legal prescription drugs finding themselves on to the streets.

It's a compulsion that starts as a pleasure for its users, but can quickly turn deadly.

"You know any type of overdose, whether it's with illicit drugs or prescription drugs, it doesn't discriminate who it is," Florence County Coroner Keith Von Lutcken said. "We see it in the lower class, we see it in the middle classes and the upper classes."

The legally-prescribed drugs like Percocet or Oxycodone are now a huge concern for the sheriff's office.

"They ruin careers, they break up families, they shatter health and they are an overall social harm," said Major Michael Nunn with the Florence County Sheriff's Office.

He says they are a danger equal to illegal drugs sold on the street.

"Years ago, we used to see where people were addicted to illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, crack, things of that nature, but now the market has been flooded with perception meds," Lutcken said.

This surge is contributing to the highest number of prescription death overdoses Florence County has ever seen.

"For 2014, in the entire year, we had 20 folks that overdosed that died as a result - as a direct result over prescription overdoses," Lutcken said.

The addiction is creating a danger to the community…by making homes a target.

"A tremendous portion of our property crime at least and some of our violent crime as well- directly attributable to illegal drugs. Now by illegal drugs we're talking about both prescription drugs that illegally and illicit drugs that are sold on the street," Nunn said.

Major Nunn said the Florence County Sheriff's Office Narcotic Division is working to eliminate illegal prescription drug use through drug intervention tactics like undercover work, but there is one problem when trying to get to the root of the problem.

"It's a little bit more difficult with regard to prescription drugs, because at some point in the process, most of the time the drugs were obtained from a legal source: a physician, a drug store," Nunn said.

One way those drugs find themselves onto the street, continuing to feed addicts, is through "doctor shopping."

Doctor shopping occurs when an addict will go to multiple doctors and take the prescriptions those doctors give to multiple pharmacies, but pharmacies and the state are cracking down on this practice.

"We go into the site and we pull up the patients based on their name and date of birth and look and see where the patient had their medications filled last time," pharmacist Ginger Dail said.

Every person in the state of South Carolina who is prescribed a controlled substance has their name entered into this state-wide system.

The program tracks when and where patients' prescriptions were filled, and who prescribed them.

This state-wide system is helping to catch those patients who become addicts or are selling their prescriptions on the streets.

"If the patient doesn't have the drugs, they'll do anything to get it, and so this is oftentimes when we will see on TV oftentimes people are stealing stuff to sell it to get drugs," said Rick McBride, Director of Clinical Services for Circle Park Behavioral Health. "Oftentimes, prostitution is involved."

The Circle Park Chrysalis Center, a center for women suffering from addiction and their children, explained that many times, the general public likes to view addicts as criminals, but that is not true.

"Drugs have such an impact on your decision making, that you make decisions, but you are not that decision, and I have never met a bad person come into treatment anywhere that I have worked," McBride said.

The women and children center is the only place in the state that allows children up to ten to stay with their mothers during addiction reform.

"Drugs can influence your behavior in such a way and your social group can influence your behavior in such a way that…I have a crude saying, but it's my saying: 'You can stand in a pile of crap long enough and it doesn't smell anymore,'" McBride said.

It's at this 90-day rehabilitation center where women reclaim control of their lives while also learning how to rebuild relationships with their children.

Prescription drug overdose is not only a problem here in Florence County; the CDC says over the past ten years, it has become a bigger problem across the nation.

It is estimated that 120 people will die every day in the U.S. from prescription drug overdoses.

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