In 2010 the number of deaths in Utah by painkiller abuse was greater than the number of deaths by car accidents.
Utah is ranked low, nationally, on the number of people engaging in painkiller abuse. Despite that, the problem is growing so rapidly that two counties have assigned one officer to focus only on crimes related to the illegal use of prescription drugs.
The people abusing the prescriptions are “living next door to you and me,” said Deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland. Some begin as recreational users and become addicted, but “most folks start using the drugs for legitimate medical reasons and then get hooked on the pain killers,” Westmoreland said.
The most common painkiller abuse drugs are Lortab (hydrocodone) and oxycodone. Painkillers are becoming the drug of choice for teens nationwide, though marijuana is still in the number one slot.
How do people get these prescriptions? If the user knows the lingo and has enough medical knowledge, they might be able to call in the prescription themselves. Others steal prescription pads or sheets during a doctor’s visit and others photocopy valid prescriptions, changing dates, etc. Addicts also steal from elderly relatives, those who have recently had surgery, and even from medicine cabinets during open houses around the neighborhood.
Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force Agent Nate Jensen investigates prescription fraud cases. His agency averages 75 to 100 cases a year.
“Most of the time they’re keeping it a secret,” Jensen said. “Their loved ones don’t know about it, and many are just waiting to get caught so they can get help.”