Parents: keep eye on meds
By John Howell
The opioid abuse epidemic that has impacted the entire country often confronts officers of the Panola County Sheriff’s Department Task Force, according to two deputies assigned to the specialized unit.
“I get calls all the time from people about their kids stealing from them,” task force captain Gray Nickel said.
Nickel and task force agent Adrian Kirkwood spoke at the weekly meeting of the Batesville Exchange Club Wednesday, describing the rise of prescription drug abuse as well as the ebb and flow of legacy drugs with which they have long been familiar.
Stricter controls on pharmacies and enforcement against doctors who overprescribe opioid-based pain medications like Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Lortab and anxiety medications like Xanex are helping reduce their availability for abuse, according to Kirkwood.
“Now they can tell every time you go to that pharmacy and get drugs, they keep a track of it,” Kirkwood said. “Doctors are being more careful now because they know they’re going to get caught if they put more drugs out than that patient needs.”
“That’s where a lot of our community is starting out, is on the prescription pills,” Nickels said. “They’ll go raid mama and daddy’s pill cabinet and start taking anywhere from your Lortab to Xanexes, Oxycodones — those type of pills, and they start getting addicted to them.
“They crush them up, snort them. They’ll pop four or five pills. We’ve come across some who are taking 15 or 20 pills a day,” Nickel continued. “It’s even starting to get into your middle school, and your younger kids, seven, eight, nine, 10-year-old, they’ll go to school; they’ll sell the pills. That’s a big problem in our schools.
“We try to let the community know that — don’t leave your medicines laying around, especially when you’ve got children, grandchildren running around. Keep your medicines locked up,” Nickel said.
“I think that’s where we need to start focusing is the kids — junior high, high school, college,” Nickel said.
Another avenue that leads to prescription drug abuse comes after surgeries or other conditions where the drugs are legitimately prescribed for pain.
“That is a problem,” Nickel said. “By the time we come across them they’ve already advanced into other drugs. We do a lot of dope transactions where we buy prescription pills from people. Lately we’ve had several cases where people were getting their pain pills and they’ll start selling their pain pills to make money,” he said.
Methamphetamine sales and use in Panola County had risen until arrests with recent investigations culminated in arrests, according to Kirkwood.
“Two to three months ago we knocked a dent in the meth; we took out some major players in Panola County.”
Now, “the thing we are starting to see is heroin,” Kirkwood continued. “Right now, it’s basically in Memphis, the DeSoto County area; they’re starting to see it in Tate County; they’re also seeing it in Clarksdale.”
Compounding problems with all illegal drugs is the growing practice of lacing the contraband substance with the even more potent drug fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic “that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent,” according to the web site of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov).
“With most of your drugs, there’s not going to be a high that they’re ever going to get that’s going to match that first high they got,” Nickel said. “Every time they use drugs after that, it’s chasing that first high.
“That’s why they’re starting to lace these drugs with fentanyl,” he said. “They’re adding this stuff to try to get a better high. That’s what’s causing them to overdose because they don’t know how to add this stuff to make it better; they’re just adding it,” Nickel said. “With fentanyl it takes one small drop to kill you, of liquid, pure fentanyl to kill you.” Arrests and seizures have found fentanyl added to every illegal drug, including marijuana, according to the task force captain.
To combat drug use among young people, “we have the DARE programs that are in the schools, and we have officers who are dedicated solely to that, to going to the school system and talking to these kids and having classes and having programs for them,” Nickel said.
For adults facing drug charges who meet the criteria, “we try to help them by getting them into drug court,” the officer said. “There’s always successes and there are failures with drug court.”
“A lot of their problem is who they hang out with,” Nickel said. “If they don’t change their surroundings, they’re going to go back to it.”
Escaping drug addiction requires “really strong will power and a huge support group behind them,” Nickel said. “But when it boils down to it, they’ve got to want to quit.”
The officer cited numerous relapses among drug users after lengthy rehabilitation.
“Sometimes we’ll get with the families; meet with them and try to figure out ways to help their family members,” he continued. “Going to jail is a last resort; we don’t like taking people to jail for it. For a lot of these people, this is an addiction. Any one of us could have an addiction really easily,” Nickel said.