Health & Medicine

Prescriptions for controlled drugs up in 118 of 120 counties

FRANKFORT — The rate of prescriptions issued for controlled substances increased in all but two of Kentucky's 120 counties between 2005 and 2007, according to a new report released Wednesday.

Five counties — Clinton, Magoffin, Whitley, Bell and Owsley — averaged more than four prescriptions per resident for controlled substances, such as narcotic pain medication, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics in the Commonwealth for 2007.

The only counties that did not show an increase were Crittenden and Union.

The report also showed that all drug arrests increased by nearly 30 percent from 2005 to 2007.

Bell County Sheriff Bruce Bennett, whose county saw a nearly 16 percent jump in controlled substance prescriptions, said he thinks stiffer penalties for drug dealers are needed, along with additional monitoring of doctors and pharmacists.

"Most of them do a good job," Bennett said. "It's easy for me to say they shouldn't prescribe this pain medication or narcotic to someone. But we're seeing a lot of it right back on the street."

The drug data was collected through the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System, the prescription tracking system known as KASPER.

The rate of prescriptions dispensed for controlled substances increased by 20 percent in 32 counties from 2006 to 2007, the study showed. Carroll and Hancock counties had the highest rates of increase at nearly 42 percent and 54 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, the number of prescription drug-related court cases increased 22 percent between 2003 and 2007, the report said. In 2007, there were 7,136 prescription-drug related cases in the court system, a five-year high.

Law enforcement officials — particularly those in Eastern Kentucky — have been on the front lines of the battle against abuse of prescription drugs for more than a decade. Operation UNITE Director Karen Engle said the increase in the dispensing of controlled substances shows "that no community is immune to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse."

Operation UNITE, or the Unlawful Narcotics Investigation, Treatment and Education, is a multi-regional drug task force in Central and Eastern Kentucky.

Engle said that many believe abuse of prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, is safer than street drugs, such as cocaine. "In reality, we see people die from prescription abuse on a weekly, if not daily, basis," he said.

In 2008, more people died of methadone overdoses than any other drug. Of the 485 deaths, methadone — a painkiller that is also given to treat narcotic withdrawal — was detected in 144 overdose victims. OxyContin was the second most detected substance.

Van Ingram, the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the state is trying to increase awareness of the KASPER system among those who prescribe narcotics.

"We have a model system here that doesn't do any good if practitioners don't use it and use it on a regular basis," Ingram said.