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Press Photo by Ashley Martin Investigator Amanda McNamee with the Dickinson Police Department holds a box full of needles in the evidence room at Dickinson Law Enforcement Center on Friday. Prescription drug abuse is on the rise and junkies have been using needles like these to inject themselves with prescriptions.

Prescriptions a problem

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Prescription drug abuse in Stark County and surrounding areas continued to increase last year. The South Sakakawea Narcotics Task Force seized 315 dosages of prescription drugs in 2008 with 17 busts in Stark and surrounding counties.

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What is more alarming is that four people died in 2008 from abusing prescription drugs, and four other people nearly died said Nick Gates, a Dickinson Police officer assigned to SSNTF.

"There's a false perception that it's a safer way to get high," said Capt. Lawrence Kitzman of the Stark County Sheriff's Department.

Chuck Rummel, Dickinson Police chief added while prescriptions are considered safe under the supervision of a doctor, those who abuse them put themselves at risk.

"These guys have no guidelines on how much they take," Rummel said.

He added prescription drug abuse has been a problem in the area for the last five to six years.

A trend law enforcement has observed among young people and referred to as "party mix", is bringing a wide array of prescription pills to a party, throwing them into a bowl and grabbing an unknown mixture of drugs.

People are also crushing the pills up, turning the drugs into a liquid and injecting themselves with the drugs. Gates said this is more popular than ingesting the drugs because it takes less of the drugs to achieve a high.

Kitzman said abuse of prescriptions really began to skyrocket about two years ago as more people began to realize the dangers of methamphetamine.

"When meth people found out meth was going to kill them, they decided they'd start using something safe that doctors prescribe," Kitzman said. "They feel that because doctors prescribe them, they must be safe."

Pain medications are normally what people abuse and Gates said hydromorphone and OxyContin are the most popular.

"They may come in with pains that aren't actually there or they may have legitimate pains and then they get addicted to some of these narcotics and continue to use," Rummel said.

Kitzman said many people buy prescriptions illegally as well.

"There's a big sale for prescriptions drugs," Kitzman said. "Someone goes down and gets three or four prescriptions filled and sells one of them for 20 bucks a pill."

He added people also steal prescriptions from family members and burglarize pharmacies to get the drugs. Law enforcement has also dealt with people claiming their prescriptions were stolen, when really they were just trying to get more to sell or use.

SSNTF seized 76 grams of meth during eight drug busts in 2008. Gates said the majority of the meth in the area, as well as nationwide, is transported here from Mexico.

"In Mexico, they don't have the regulations that we do," Gates said, adding it is often made in "super labs."

"A super lab is a meth lab that can produce a hundred pounds of meth or more in less than 24 hours," Gates said.

SSNTF also seized 55 grams of cocaine, 2 grams of heroin, and 20 dosage units of ecstasy in 2008. Gates said ecstasy and heroin are pretty rare in the area, but that's a different drug and comes in spurts.

"It's kind of like a fashion trend," Kitzman said. "Whatever is popular in the in crowd filters down to us."

SSNTF also seized 253 ounces of marijuana from 44 busts in 2008. Rummel said they usually seize more marijuana than other drugs, but prescription drugs worry law enforcement the most.

Doctors and law enforcement are working closely in an effort to combat the abuse of prescriptions. People used to be able to go to different doctors and get the same prescriptions, but a system has been implemented to help prevent this from happening.

"Anytime anybody is suspected by their doctor, they can instantly access their prescription history," Gates said. "It makes it a little easier to investigate because that's open to us too."

Law enforcement encourages the community to also be active in helping to get the prescription problem under control.

"A lot of people know what's going on in their neighborhoods, but they don't want to get involved; but they can remain anonymous," Rummel said.

Gates added it's important to keep prescriptions in a safe place and to dispose of those that are unused.

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