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Bad medicine: Prescription drug abuse on the rise in ND, Dickinson sees several thefts

Press Photo by April Baumgarten Like the rest of the country, western North Dakota is seeing an increase in prescription drug abuse, and several have reported their medicine stolen.

In the early hours of the morning on Jan. 27 a man tried to break into The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Dickinson.

In November, a man was convicted in Stark County of robbing Irsfeld Pharmacy in June. He told the court it was an attempt to get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

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Prescription drugs are reported stolen regularly to the Dickinson Police Department — sometimes by an abuser.

“What we’ve found is we have some people who have a tendency to come in and report that their prescriptions are stolen, but then when we ask them if they would be willing to take a polygraph, or would they be willing to write a statement, they’re kind of hesitant,” Dickinson Police Capt. Dave Wilkie said. “Which kind of gives you the idea that maybe they weren’t stolen.”

Just like the rest of the country, North Dakota is seeing a rise in prescription drug abuse cases.

“We do see an increase in individuals who their primary drug of addiction is a prescription drug,” said JoAnne Hoesel, director of the mental health and substance abuse services division of the North Dakota Department of Human Services. “You see some arrests for theft at pharmacies — those kinds of things — that’s really telling us in our state that it really is something that we need to pay attention to.”

Prescription opiates are the most commonly abused drug, Hoesel said.

“Those pain medications, like oxycodone, those types of things, those are extremely potent medications and it really does change your brain chemistry,” Hoesel said.

Prescription amphetamines, like ritalin or adderall, most commonly prescribed for individuals with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have also found a recreational use, Hoesel said.

Dickinson authorities are seeing more cases of muscle relaxants being reported stolen over other types of drugs, Wilkie said.

“Over the last 10 years (prescription drugs) have become popular because people have this impression that they’re safe,” Wilkie said. “They’re not coming out of some Colombian drug lab or they’re not — they are what they are, generally is what people think, and that’s where they think that they’re safe. When you’re not taking them as prescribed or they’re not prescribed to you, they’re not safe.”

Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as illegal street drugs, Hoesel said.

“There’s definitely a perception that if it’s a prescription drug, it’s safe and it’s prescribed by a doctor,” Hoesel said. “Heroin certainly is an illegal drug. It is obtained in a totally different manner and it has a whole different feel to it. But oxycodone and heroin — they’re both opioids. Their action on your body is the same.”

Because prescription drugs are harder to obtain, addicted individuals will often move on to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get, Hoesel said.

The Department of Human Services has been running a campaign to make people aware of where their prescription drugs are, and recommending they secure them just like their guns, Hoesel said. She said 71 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get it from people they know.

“Friends, family,” Hoesel said. “It really is something that every one of us can make a difference in this in the state if we would be more aware of that kind of thing.”

Addiction can start with a legal prescription for legitimate pain, Hoesel said.

“What happens, however, is sometimes people start taking more than prescribed, or taking it beyond the initial reason that they were prescribed that pain medication,” Hoesel said.

Someone prescribed a painkiller every eight hours may find that they can take it every 12 hours, Wilkie said. This leaves leftover pills after the prescription period.

“You can sell those pills on the street for x-amount of dollars per dosage, you’re making some profit and you’re still covering yourself with your medication,” Wilkie said.

Another way to obtain prescription drugs is through a doctor who will prescribe them when they’re not needed.

Those cases — there have been three in the last year, though not all for opioids or amphetamines — can be reported to the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners through their website, said Duane Houdek, executive secretary.

“The nation has seen a rise in prescription drug abuse. It is considered an epidemic by the National Institute of Health,” Houdek said. “There has been a great increase in people’s usage of prescription drugs in the wrong way illicitly. All of that ultimately means that you’re going to have more doctors who are being asked to prescribe those.”

Complaints go through a process to make sure they are founded before anything is made public, Houdek said. The complainee is never identified, even when a public record is made of the complaint.

Depending the situation, consequences are handed out when a complaint against a doctor is proved to be true, Houdek said. Many times, the doctors are allowed to continue practicing and retain their prescribing privileges with conditions.

“If we find that this is just an egregious example, that there’s either way too much being prescribed or it reaches the point of being a reckless situation there’s real harm to the public, then the only agreement would accept is the doctor stop doing it and take away his privilege to prescribe or take away his license to practice medicine,” Houdek said.

Anyone with information regarding The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy incident is asked to call Dickinson Police Sgt. Kylan Klauzer at 701-456-7751 or the Badlands Crimestoppers line at 701-456-7750.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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