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Prescription drug abuse on the rise

Prescription drug abuse has risen in the Wadena area in recent years, according to Wadena area law enforcement.

Sgt./Investigator Naomi Plautz said prescription drug abuse is nothing new, and part of the reason people hear about it more is due to more publicity, but it has really has risen in recent years.

Plautz said she started to notice the rise in prescription drug abuse around 2005 or 2006.

Additionally, K-9 Deputy Bryan Savaloja of the Wadena County Sheriff's Department, who is trained in drugs and their effects, said he has noticed prescription drug abuse rising since he started in 2007.

Savaloja also said 50-60 percent of drug-related DUI incidents he deals with are prescription drugs, as opposed to regular illegal drugs.

"I'm trained to detect drug-impaired drivers," he said.

Savaloja added that some people are unaware that people who possess and use prescription drugs don't know it is still illegal to drive if they are impaired by the drugs.

Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr said there is no single profile of a prescription drug abuser, and abusers range in age from teens to senior citizens.

Carr said he has seen good people become addicted. He also said some addicts don't initially seek to abuse drugs but end up getting hooked on what they once needed legitimately.

Plautz, Savaloja and Carr all said prescription drug use, unlike illegal narcotics, starts with someone getting a legal prescription, and they can be stolen by another party, be sold or abused by the initial patient. They are easier to obtain and cheaper than other addictive drugs.

Carr said hospitals are getting better at weaning people off drugs and getting patients to manage pain, but some people still fall through the cracks.

Frequently abused drugs include painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Oxycontin).

Plautz said users have told her the prescription drugs are just as addictive as illegal drugs.

Plautz said they run into a couple prescription drug incidents every month.

She also said, more frequently, they also get prescription drug theft reports. In addition to an illegal user stealing from a legal user, abuse can happen when a legal user takes more than the prescribed dose, uses up their prescription prematurely or claims theft to renew the prescription.

She said some abusers have the misconception that prescription drugs are safe, but since the drugs are prescribed individually to people depending on body weight, age and other factors, a safe dose for the legitimate recipient may be dangerous for someone else.

Savaloja said another dangerous effect of drugs on the body is developing a tolerance for them. If somebody takes a strong painkiller they don't need to begin with, they lose their painkilling effect, if the abuser should ever sustain an injury where they actually need the drug.

Plautz said if legal prescription drug users fear they are becoming addicted, they should go to their doctor and communicate those concerns.

For people concerned that others may try to steal their legally obtained prescription drugs, Plautz said there are prescription pill lockboxes.

Signs someone may be addicted include taking more pills than recommended, always complaining of aches and pains and changes in behavior.

Plautz said people who no longer need their prescription pills should dispose of them properly. Drugs should not be flushed down the toilet, where they can get into the groundwater system.

According to a document by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, unwanted medicines may be disposed in the trash.

Before disposal, the patient's name should be scratched out or covered with permanent marker. Medications should be dissolved or otherwise modified to discourage consumption, then sealed and concealed in the original container. Finally, the container should be thrown in the regular trash bin.

Medicines should not be placed in the recycling bin, and should not be sealed in food containers where wildlife may ingest them.