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The New Drug Problem

Editorial by Edward L. Stanton III on October 28, 2012
The Commercial Appeal

Used as prescribed or directed, medicines and prescription drugs improve our lives. When misused and abused, the opposite is true, and the consequences of this behavior, particularly among teens, are devastating.

In recent years, we have seen that prescription drug abuse constitutes one of the greatest public safety and health epidemics of our time, inflicting ravaging, long-term, effects on individuals — and destroying families and communities.

The data is alarming. Abuse of prescription drugs is the fastest-growing segment for illegal drug use in the United States. Two-and-a-half times more Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, and inhalants combined.

The problem is of particular concern among teenagers. One in five teens have reported they have abused prescription drugs to get high, and one in seven reported doing so in the past 12 months.

The Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Tennessee continue to make the fight against illegal prescription drug distribution and abuse a top priority. Through criminal prosecutions, we are moving more swiftly than ever to combat this problem on the front lines.

For example, in late 2010, Cordova doctor Daniel Fearnow was sentenced to approximately 22 years in federal prison for unlawfully writing over 25,000 illegal prescriptions for controlled substances, including oxycodone, Lortab, and Xanax pills, as well as prescription cough syrups. In May of this year, Memphis doctor Michael Patterson pleaded guilty to distributing oxycodone and hydrocodone to people with forged prescriptions.

Also, earlier this month, a federal jury convicted Larry Boatwright of Germantown, a licensed pharmacist, of illegally distributing oxycodone, hydrocodone, and alprazolam to people without valid prescriptions, out of a family-owned pharmacy in Millington.

Licensed professionals who nefariously hide behind their titles and white jackets to illegally distribute prescription drugs are just as much "drug dealers" as those who deal crack cocaine on our streets. But it is not just doctors and pharmacists — prescription drugs are unfortunately turning up in all types of criminal investigations.

Our office, for instance, recently secured convictions of Kala Bray and Vincent Jones, who committed child sex trafficking by using prescription drugs to lure teens into prostitution.

Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to bring our resources and the tough federal laws to bear against those who spread this poison throughout our community.

But citizens also can play an essential role in the fight against prescription drug abuse. Recent surveys indicate that more than half of those who admit to abusing prescription painkillers said that they got drugs "from a friend or relative for free" — not from their own doctor. This illustrates the critical importance of getting old, unused, or expired drugs out of household medicine cabinets.

Last month, during the Drug Enforcement Administration's National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, law enforcement officials collected 244 tons of prescription medications from members of the public nationally. When added to the collections from DEA's previous four Take-Back events, more than 2 million pounds of prescription medications have been removed from circulation. Contact local, state, or federal law enforcement if you would like to learn more about safe disposal of prescription drugs or report illicit pharmaceutical activities.

With the help of citizens, we will build on the positive steps we have already made. By cleaning out our medicine cabinets and remaining vigilant in fighting this new drug epidemic, we can help clean up our communities and stand together against crime. Together, we can ensure that all of our neighbors — especially our next generation — have the opportunity to live in drug-free communities and to lead safe, healthy lives.

Edward Stantion III is U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

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