The opiate epidemic has grown in the last two decades to encompass all age groups. Data from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services supplied information to Eric Watson, the Bradley County Sheriff, regarding the abuse of prescription medications for the last twenty years. Between the years of 1992 to 2012, the trend of prescribed opiates has affected every age group, from twenty-year-olds to those in their sixties. This information was collected via state-funded substance abuse treatment data.
In fact, this data shows that the abuse of prescription drugs is rapidly growing in those who are fifty to sixty years old, sometimes even older. The data shows that many of those who are currently abusing opiates have had previous issues with alcohol dependency and have switched their addictions to opiates.
Watson is concerned about this growing trend of replacing alcohol with opiates. While both are dangerous when abused, alcohol is legal within the state but most people are obtaining prescription painkillers by fraudulent means. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office is currently handling several cases every month that involve prescription fraud as well as others that involve burglary of painkillers. Many of these residential robberies will only have the prescriptions stolen while everything else in the home is left undisturbed. The increase in the crime rate has been high as more people who would previously never break the law are driven to crime to support their opiate addiction.
In the past, veteran officers would only have to deal with struggles regarding marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines but now they have seen a sharp increase of different illegal substances being used with legal medications such as OxyContin. This has given rise to an increase in the number of admissions to treatment centers nationwide.
Sheriff Watson has stated that he has participated in numerous committee hearings and general meetings to proactively address the amount of people who are illegally possessing and using prescription medication. He wants to find a way to make sure that those who need the medication and are going to use it in the right dosage are still able to access painkillers. However, he wants to make sure that more doctors are focusing on controlling opiate medications by making sure that they know how often their patients are using opiates.
He has also been an avid supporter of pharmacies across the state being able to closely communicate with doctors and other pharmacies to ensure that opiate addicts are not able to doctor shop across the state. He hopes that new databases and regulations will curb the amount of people who are getting opiates from multiple physicians with the intention of taking them themselves or re-selling them.
The sheriff says that it has become very clear that this is an issue that is devastating communities and individuals regardless of their age.
"This is not an old or young problem...it's a people problem. We want people to seek help for their prescription addiction issues...so many lives have been impacted and people are dying because of this epidemic."