Local authorities are making efforts to combat what they say is a growing trend in drug-related crime.
Since April, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Investigator Terry Hawkins has specialized in cases that involve the recreational use of prescription medicine, or pharmaceutical diversion.
His work includes prescription forgery, doctor shopping and street sales.
Hawkins cites a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that looked at drug and alcohol use trends from 1996 to 2007.
“During that same period pharmaceutical diversion had a growth rate of 500 percent,” he said.
Since Hawkins began his work some nine months ago, he alone has made 27 arrests related to diversion.
The sheriff’s office has also participated in four events aimed at collecting expired or unwanted prescription drugs from the public so they can be properly disposed of.
To date, 128 pounds of pharmaceuticals have been turned in. Plans include setting up permanent drop boxes at the sheriff’s precincts, Hawkins said.
According to information on the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency’s Web site, 543 of the 638 drug overdose deaths statewide in 2008 involved prescription drugs or a combination of prescription and illicit drugs.
The information is based on an analysis of autopsies conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Medical Examiner’s Office. The statistics exclude autopsies performed by medical examiners in Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Henry, Hall and Rockdale counties.
Hawkins noted that the top prescription killers are Oxycodone, a pain killer, and Alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety and commonly known as Xanax. Oxycodone is used in Roxicodone, Oxycontin and other drugs prescribed for pain treatment.
The drugs are highly addictive, said Sheriff’s Maj. Dan Jagoe, who warned that abusing them can lead to crime.
“We’ve got kids out here who take these Oxycontins one, two times and they’re hooked,” Jagoe said. “They’ll forge checks, steal from their parents, lie at the doctor’s office.
“There are no friends when it comes to drug addiction. It’s devastating to their family members, friends and associates.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency, 34 states as of July had active prescription drug monitoring programs.
The program uses a statewide electronic database that tracks prescription information.
Georgia does not have such a program, though neighbors Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee do. Florida has enacted legislation to establish a program, but it is not yet operational.
Hawkins said having a monitoring program in Georgia would improve efforts to stop pharmaceutical diversion.
District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, said he hasn’t heard whether lawmakers will take up the issue in the upcoming session, which begins next week.
“I know that it’s getting some traction throughout the state,” Murphy said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if legislation did come forth to do something about that, but I can’t say for sure right now that’s going to happen.”
Murphy noted that attempts to establish a program have been made in the past, with cost being one of the issues that held it up.
“I think if they can get that figured out, then I think it’ll probably be something that would come forth again,” he said.
In the meantime, Hawkins plans to continue his efforts, which include working with local pharmacies and doctors, as well as educating school and other groups in the county about the dangers of prescription pill abuse.