Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse on the Rise

"Drugs are attractive. We live in a drug culture," says Bob Bick.

Bick is director of Substance Abuse Services at the Howard Center in Burlington, where they've seen the number of people addicted to prescription drugs rise in the past few years.
It's a problem many officials say has gone unnoticed until recently, because prescription drugs seem safer, and there's a different image attached to using them.

Bick says, "If you have a choice between taking a substance that's gonna make you high, and you're not exactly sure what's in it, versus a substance that you have some high degree of comfort that you know what's in it, which would you choose?"
"By the time it reaches the street, it doesn't have the same stigma that a needle would have per se, or crack pipe," says Maj. Tom L'Esperance of the Vt. State Police.

Authorities say they've seen prescription drug abuse in every age group. And even if you don't know someone addicted, chances are you know someone affected. Many drug addicts turn to crime to finance a drug habit that can run as high as $600 a day.

"It might be shoplifting, it might be prostitution-- both male and female, it might be burglary, breaking and entering, in order to get the money to sustain their drug habit," explains Bick.
"The interviews that are conducted with the person that was arrested, we tried to find out what the motive was, and most times the motive was prescription drugs," says L'Esperance.

People raid medicine cabinets, practice prescription drug fraud at pharmacies, or participate in smuggling rings to bring drugs into the states and onto the streets. Police say pain killers are the most popular manufactured drugs of choice, like percocet, vicodin and oxycontin.

"It's readily available," says Bick. "You can buy illicit, pharmaceutical drugs on any Main Street, probably in the state of Vermont, certainly in the major metropolitan areas of the state of Vermont."

But while counselors say it's the demand that's driving the supply, there's also money to be made-- pharmaceutical drugs can sell for a dollar a milligram, which means that one 80 milligram pill can be an easy $80 for a dealer. And because the Vt. State Police have seen a drop in federal funding, they plan to ask the legislature for an additional $1 million next month to help fight the growing problem.

"We have to work, not only in law enforcement, but with the treatment people, education, and really get the word out that it's run under the radar for far too long. And it's time that we all work toward this problem to address it," says L'Esperance.

Police are currently working on a measure that would stop prescription drug fraud by preventing people from filling duplicate prescriptions at different pharmacies. Officials say they are also reassigning more officers on the force to focus specifically on the prescription drug problem.

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