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Prescription drug theft a common problem


Suppose you've lost, or had stolen from you, a prescription drug. A pain killer, for instance.

Particularly if you suspect theft, your natural instinct is to report it to police.



If it's a first time, you probably will be surprised to learn from the Wabash police dispatcher that there will be no officer out to investigate, no case report. Nothing except a log entry to verify you reported the alleged theft.

There's the key word, "alleged." Law enforcement officers have every reason to roll their eyes when talk turns to stolen pills.

Pills, particularly pain pills, do get stolen, of course, "But the biggest part of our stolen pills reports is a farce."

So said a member of the Wabash City Drug Task Force.


Long ago people addicted to particular medications or choosing to supplement their income by selling them discovered they might coax their doctor to give them more if the pills were "stolen" or "lost."

Several years ago, rather than spend precious investigative time over what may end up "false reporting," Wabash police decided to make an entry on the daily log that you reported such and such. Then it's up to your physician.

The matter of false reporting is only one head of the many headed monster of prescription drugs for members of the drug task force. The Plain Dealer recently explored the problem with two task force members.

A problem it is. In a recent year, 2006,

the task force calculates at least 40 deaths hereabouts were attributable to prescription medications like Lortab, OxyContin, Vicodin, Lonipin, Soma. (Deaths occur from overdose or just as likely from lethal combination of prescription and-or illicit drugs.)

So far this year, according to Wabash County Hospital Emergency Department records, the hospital has received 27 patients classified as suffereing from "overdose." Seventeen were transferred to another facility, five were admitted at Wabash County Hospital, three were released after treatment, and two died after arrival.

In addition to the above numbers, the hospital reported five overdose victims dead on arrival. There have been eight cases of drug-withdrawal problems.

Medications really do get stolen, of course, perhaps with most tragic results within the family. The classic example is medications filched from the family medicine cabinet by a member of the family.

Task force members said these obtainable medicine cabinet drugs often serve as an entre to the illicit drugs like marijuana, heroin, cocaine.

Medicine cabinet thefts occur in other ways, too: Your kids have a party at the house and their friends are in and out of the bathroom; a contractor is doing some lawn or roofing work and needs to use the bathroom or get a drink at the kitchen cabinet, and so on.

And, sadly, a tiny percentage of nurses, nurses aides and other staffers in hospitals and convalescent- or retirement homes will be on the lookout for unattended pills.

Task force advice: Count your pills and safeguard them, then dispose of old medications (at the police station, for instance).

"Talking to your kids is probably the best thing you can do."

So much for stolen medications - a serious problem for the task force, but dwarfed in volume by the problem of pills more or less legitimately obtained, then sold.

Medication prescription is a matter between physician and patient, of course. That becomes a problem for the Task Force when physicians prescribe pain-killer medications too easily, for too long a period, or to the wrong people. These medications, sometimes in their entirety, get sold.

The pills are sometimes sold within minutues, perhaps in the pharmacy parking lot.

"I bought pills that way, undercover, in Marion once," said a member of the task force, adding, "Mostly we have responsible doctors here. In this community we have one doctor that receives 90 percent of the complaints over prescription abuse."

Every community has such doctors, he said, and soon the abusers and the sellers learn who they are.

Those selling their own supplies may face serious felony charges if caught, but they may have plenty of incentive to go on selling. Many of them, through Medicare or Medicaid, get the drugs for almost nothing, so the profit is nearly pure.

"They often liquidate their supply within two days," said a member of the task force. "It's a longstanding problem. We don't know what the answer is."

Task force members insisted on a postscipt to the story, one addressed to people who need pain medication: Don't let all this talk of abuse and law breaking scare you off. If you and your doctor determine you need the medication, take it in full confidence.