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Prescription drug abuse 'devastating' Harford

In the past six years, 60 percent of all overdose deaths of Harford County residents were due to prescription drugs, and in 2010, 80 percent of total drug or alcohol related overdose deaths for Harford residents were related to prescription drugs.

"It's devastating our community," Joe Ryan, with the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, told a crowed of about 50 during an afternoon workshop as part of the annual symposium Wednesday hosted by Harford County Department of Community Services, Office of Drug Control Policy at Patterson Mill High School.

"[Prescription drug abuse] is hazardous to your health and can kill you in a heartbeat," said. "And that's what we're trying to address."

Ryan and Lt. Lee Dunbar, Harford County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Task Force Commander, were leading the workshop about the issue that has gripped this area in the past decade.

The workshop was part of a daylong event aimed at providing information to people interested in learning more about drug prevention, intervention and treatment. Attendees were able to choose from a variety of workshops.

Dunbar spoke of the narcotics task force he leads, commenting that before 2007 the sheriff's office's focus was "typical illicit drugs," such as cocaine or heroin, but began to see the trend of prescription drug use.

"We're going after the supply, but I think it's time to start looking at the demand," Dunbar said.

With the profit margin so high with prescription drugs — "a dollar a milligram," Dunbar said is often the case — drugs dealers are now selling prescription drugs, such as Oxycodone or OxyContin.

The three most abused prescriptions are opioid painkillers, such as Oxycodone, sedatives, such as Valium, and stimulants, such as amphetamines.

"It's an epidemic," Dunbar said. "It's here. It's a crisis situation." He added that Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD and ADD, is being considered as a "new gateway drug into pills."

Both Ryan and Dunbar emphasized the importance of prevention and the first line of defense is family.

"[Drugs are] readily available. The kids know that," Ryan said.

This is one reason why the county encourages residents to dispose of prescription drugs they are no longer using during drug turn-in events every fall and spring.

During the most recent event, which is held at the county administration building in Bel Air, 500 participants dropped off 1,340 pounds of drugs.

Ryan said this equates to about $12 million worth of medication.

The next event will take place Sept. 29, again at the county office building at 220 S. Main St.

Evanne Rue, a counselor in training at Turning Corners treatment center in Bel Air, asked if the county has been seeing a lot of pain clinics giving out prescriptions to make a profit off the drug sales.

The county has two open investigations on such pain clinics, Dunbar said without naming the clinics.

"We know that they're frauds and we know that the doctors are frauds," he continued, but it's difficult to take legal action if the doctors ask their patients where their pain is and give a prescription to take care of that, technically.

"A lot of these doctors are cash only," Dunbar added.

Ryan mentioned that the Target pharmacy in Bel Air handles a lot of prescriptions.

He clarified after the workshop that the Bel Air location is "one of the busiest Targets" east of the Mississippi.

While this is only what he has been told by other pharmacists not with the chain store, Ryan could say that it is "extremely busy there."

Also after the workshop, Rue spoke about how she has been affected by addiction in her life.

When Rue attended college, she said she saw recreational rug use, including people taking Xanax then drinking and blacking out, sometimes winding up in the emergency room.

"It's like candy," she said of the drug. Rue added that Adderall was another frequent drug used by college students and some people would get the prescription for free through their parent's health insurance then sell the pills for $5 each.

In the program, Rue said she sees mostly people between 18 and 25 years old. Older people, however, seem to get addicted to opiates after they are prescribed them by a doctor.

Additionally, Rue said, her older sister is an addict and met her fiancé in rehab.

"We couldn't enable them anymore," she said of why they don't stay in touch.

Having addiction in her family is one reason why she decided to begin working for Turning Corners in October.

"Most of the people in our program are a pleasure," she said. "It's refreshing to know that it [addiction] is not something to stigmatize. Everyone is different. It's refreshing to see the way people change."

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