|By JOHN WORTHEN
Union County is losing the war against illegal prescription drug use, and if something isn’t done soon to curtail the problem, it could become a full blown crisis.
This announcement came as part of 13th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Robin J. Carroll’s speech to the El Dorado Rotary Club on Monday.
Carroll also told Rotarians that his office is targeting pushers of illegal prescription medication and will hand them harsh penalties like those already being doled out to dealers of other illegal drugs like cocaine and meth.
The most abused prescription drug is the popular painkiller Hydrocodone, and it’s being sold on the street and in schools for as much as $10 per pill, Carroll said.
To compound the problem, many children and teens are also popping pills swiped from their parents’ medicine cabinets, Carroll noted, and they don’t fully understand the consequences of the highly addictive drugs before taking them.
In addition, the Internet is a haven for illegal prescription medication, as numerous web sites and e-mails advertise the drugs as if they’re legal to possess without a prescription, Carroll said.
“There is a huge misconception there among teens about these prescription medications,” Carroll said. “A kid who might not try pot or crack because of the stigmas attached to those drugs would be more likely to take a pill because they just don’t understand how addictive they can be. And they don’t understand that it’s just as illegal to abuse prescriptions as it is to do other drugs.”
In 2005, 6.4 million Americans above age 12 used a prescription drug for non-medical purposes, Carroll said. Of those, 4.7 million were narcotic pain relievers like Vicodin and Hydrocodone. In teens,19 percent report abusing prescription medications to get high; 40 percent believe that prescription medicines are safer than illegal drugs; and 31 percent believe there’s nothing wrong with using prescription medications without a prescription, according to statistics provided by Carroll.
Nonmedical use of prescription drugs ranks second only to marijuana as the most prevalent category of drug abuse, Carroll added.
“This is a major issue now, and we are doing our best to get control of it,” Carroll said. “I think our local police office and sheriff’s office have significantly reduced the number of meth labs and the availability of other drugs like crack cocaine, but we are definitely losing the battle against illegal prescription drug use right now.”
Carroll said he also plans to evaluate on a case by case basis admitting those arrested for taking and possessing illegal prescription medication to the Arkansas Drug Courts for treatment.
Currently there are two drug courts in the six counties that make up the 13th Judicial District. Union and Ouachita counties have active programs, while Carroll said he hopes to establish a drug court in Dallas County that would also serve Calhoun and Cleveland counties.
“Drug courts reduce prison overcrowding and save the state $25 million each year, diverting 1,500 potential prisoners away from the Arkansas Department of Corrections,” Carroll said. “It also reduces robberies and other drug-related crimes.”
The Union County Drug Court has a 90 percent success rate, Carroll noted, which is 10 percent better than the State of Arkansas as a whole.
“That’s something that we are very proud of,” Carroll said. “This program has worked very well in Union County.”