Prescription drug abuse growing issue

When it comes to drug abuse, not all of the criminals are dealing in clearly illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana or methamphetamine.

Abuse of prescription medication is a growing problem, and it's one that authorities need to get a handle on as quickly as possible.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that an analysis of autopsies conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed a 10 percent jump from 2009 to 2010 in deaths that were attributed to prescription drug overdoses.

The GBI report concluded that the number of prescription drug overdose deaths rose from 508 in 2009 to 560 in 2010. In addition, the GBI noted there were 68 other deaths that were blamed on a combination of prescription and illegal drugs.

Overall, the GBI found, there were 729 drug overdose deaths, with 91 percent of them ruled accidental overdoses.

Even so, the GBI numbers may be a bit low. Seven of Georgia's 159 counties -- including Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb in metro Atlanta -- were not included in the study.

Prescription drug abuse too often flies under the radar, primarily because the abuser has often obtained the drug in what appears to be a legal fashion, though many times it is actually through deceptive means.

An abuser of prescription medication, for instance, will "shop" for doctors and pharmacies. The abuser will go from one doctor to the next, hiding information on what the other doctors have prescribed.

That abuser will then take this prescription to one pharmacy and the prescription from a second doctor to a second drug store.

There's also a black market for drugs such as leftover pain medication. That individual with the leftover painkiller might sell it, or someone might steal it and then market it.

While we don't encourage government intrusion into personal lives, it would appear that some sort of central pharmaceutical database is needed to prevent pharmacy shopping, and to better catch the minority of doctors who will indiscriminately write scripts at a patient's behest.

The federal or state government doesn't need to know about your cholesterol pills or blood pressure medicine, but if your name showed up for three different prescriptions for Oxycontin, some computer somewhere ought to have an alarm sound.

Meanwhile, people who have no desire to be caught up in the illegal drug market can take steps to keep from becoming an unknowing contributor to the problem. If you get a legitimate prescription for a painkiller or other drug that has street value and you no longer need it, dispose of it properly. You can, at least, ensure that you haven't inadvertently contributed to someone's demise.

The number of Georgia deaths from prescription drug overdoses is relatively small in the grand scheme of things, but the trend is heading in the wrong direction, according to this study. And prescription drug abuse, which too often gets a knowing wink, is just as dangerous and just as illegal as the use of crack, powder cocaine, meth or marijuana.

It should be treated that way.