Prescription drug abuse increasing in North DakotaThe consensus among law enforcement officers, prosecutors and medical professionals is the problem with prescription drug abuse is increasing.
By: Keith Norman , The Dickinson Press
JAMESTOWN — The consensus among law enforcement officers, prosecutors and medical professionals is the problem with prescription drug abuse is increasing.
“Unfortunately it is a growing problem and a growing part of our caseload,” said Troy Kelly, an officer with the Stutsman County Narcotics Task Force. “We’re still seeing the old standbys of marijuana and other street drugs but prescription abuse is pushing to the front.”
Kelly said 26 of the task force’s 75 cases in 2010 dealt with prescription drugs as at least part of the illegal drug activity.
“The perception is it’s growing in magnitude but the tricks are all the same,” said Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney. “We have less meth cooking going on but it seems like drug abuse is like a balloon: you push in one side and it bulges out the other side.”
Fremgen said in some cases the problem begins with a pain medication prescription for an injury or surgery.
“You may vary well have a person who has a legitimate use,” he said. “But if they start taking more than prescribed or acquiring pills illegally or doctor shopping to get multiple prescriptions they are abusing the drugs and may be addicted.”
Fremgen considers doctor shopping, patients who visit several physicians or medical facilities seeking prescriptions for pain-killing narcotics, as a major source for the prescription drug abuser. The medical industry is doing what it can to stop it.
“There is a prescription drug monitoring system in North Dakota run by the Board of Pharmacy,” said Dr. Larry Johnson, physician at Medcenter One in Jamestown. “A physician who suspects a patient is drug seeking can request a history of scheduled narcotics from the system.”
Johnson said all scheduled narcotics and some other drugs prone to abuse are listed in the registry. The report tells the physician if other prescriptions for similar drugs have been issued to the individual.
“It’s for the doctors and the pharmacists,” Johnson said. “It’s not for law enforcement unless they have an open case and a reason to suspect an individual.”
Johnson also said the drug monitoring programs differ in surrounding states.
Other sources for prescription drug abusers include forged prescriptions, pills purchased from people who have a valid prescription and theft.
“There have been burglaries just to steal meds,” Kelly said. “Even watching the paper for obituaries and breaking into the homes of those that recently died.”
Kelly suggests removing any medication from the home as soon as the legitimate need is gone. This includes families removing the medications from the home of someone who has recently died.
“The drop box at the Law Enforcement Center is helpful,” he said. “Get rid of the drugs when the need no longer exists so there isn’t a potential for theft or abuse by a family member.”
The Drug Take-Back program is operated by the North Dakota Attorney General’s office with drop boxes at law enforcement offices around the state.
Norman is a reporter at The Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.