Prescription Drug Abuse an Epidemic in Kentucky

In 2006, Kenneth Williams and James Quisenberry killed a Louisville, Kentucky mother and severely injured her daughter while looking for prescription drugs. They robbed Earon Harperr, shot her to death, and then shot 2-year-old Erica Hughes. Fortunately, Erica survived. Williams was sentenced to life in prison without parole earlier this year and Quisenberry was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the crimes.

In Shepherdsville, Kentucky, earlier this year, a pharmacy was robbed three times in a month and a half for narcotic pain killers. “I’ve had patients who’ve broken their teeth so they can go to the dentist and get a prescription for pain,” said Jessie Morgan, director of the University of Louisville’s outpatient pharmacy. “There have been people who’ve broken limbs to get the pain medication.”

Morgan explained that in his 30 years behind the counter, he’s seen it all. “In our society, because there’s a prescription attached to it, the vast majority of public opinion is it’s not an issue, but it is an issue,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of patients who come into the pharmacy and they have forged prescriptions or abused prescriptions,” he added.

Morgan has seen cases where people monitor newspapers for obituaries, then break into the deceased person’s home looking for medication to either use or sell. “One hydromorphone pill costs $1.50 at the pharmacy. On the street it goes for $50,” he said.

Nearly 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs—that’s more than the number of people abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, ecstasy, and inhalants combined. And according to the DEA, the number of people abusing prescription drugs has increased by more than 80 percent in the last six years.

Opioid painkillers cause more drug overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined, and a quarter of all drug-related emergency department visits are associated with prescription drug abuse.

There are safeguards in Kentucky to avoid prescription abuse, such as pharmacists being required to update a statewide computer database every eight days, which alerts them to misuse or false prescriptions.

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