As evidenced by last week’s drug roundup by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, prescription drugs have at least reached the par of cocaine and marijuana as drugs of choice in Richmond County.
It is unknown how many of the 34 individuals arrested for selling prescription drugs to an undercover police officer were doing so to support a substance abuse problem, but it is safe to assume many of them were, some people who work with treatment say.
Samaritan Colony Executive Director Harold Pearson has worked with addicts from Richmond County for nearly three decades, but he’s seen a shift in the nature of their addictions.
“Through the years, we would see it periodically, but it really probably started (to be the case) about two and a half years ago, I’d say, when we started seeing more and more people with an opiate addiction.”
Daymark Recovery Services in Rockingham is the portal of entry for Richmond County residents seeking substance abuse treatment.
While Samaritan Colony provides short-term treatment for men, there are no such options in the county for women, or any options for long-term care or public “halfway house” residential treatment or period and patients are often sent to Moore Regional Hospital for detoxification.
“I don’t know that Richmond County in particular has limited options for substance abuse treatment, it’s just that there are limited resources out there, in general,” Daymark Associate Clinical Operations Director Jerry Earnhardt said Monday. It helps that Samaritan Colony is right in your back yard, though.“
Earnhardt said outpatient substance abuse treatment services are offered through Daymark, and after the beginning of the year the provider will expand to offer intensive outpatient services, but residential-type programs for women are unavailable without going to Lexington, Winston Salem or Butner.
“It can (discourage them from entering treatment), just because of the distance,” Earnhardt said. “I’d say more than anything, it hinders family involvement in the recovery process. You try to get the family involved as much as possible, be it the spouse or parents or children, and if they have to load up and drive two hours to do it, it’s really inconvenient, especially if it’s once or twice a week.”
For men, Samaritan’s Colony is available with fee waived if referred through Daymark Recovery Services. After treatment is completed, patients are charged on a sliding scale of between $10 and $90 per day of treatment.
Supporting a habit
Pearson said many of the addicts he works with support their habits by dealing the substance they abuse.
“A lot of them do deal, but they’re not dealing for the money aspect of it - they’re dealing to support their addictions,” Pearson said. “So, if they can get a dealer to front them a little, they can sell most of them and take some.”
The Web site usnodrugs.com acknowledged prescription drug abuse is widespread in North Carolina, and noted the practice of “doctor shopping,” or searching for a doctor who will prescribe addictive medications, is commonplace in the state.
Another Internet substance abuse treatment resource, addictionsearch.com, added these drugs are often obtained by prescription forgeries, pharmacy break-ins and via the Internet.
“Some of the pharmaceutical drugs are brought into North Carolina from Mexico and Southwestern Border cities,” the Web site reads. “Numerous pain management clinics have opened in every major city in the State and pose an enormous threat to the communities. These pain management clinics do injustice to patients by continually prescribing narcotics to addicts.”
There are pain management clinics located in the region, but prescriptions obtained in Richmond County come from doctors offices, as the county doesn’t have a pain management clinic.
There are also numerous reports filed with local law enforcement each month of stolen prescription medications, which could in part be predicated by people trying to obtain extra drugs to sell or ingest.
“A lot of our guys do doctor shop,” Pearson said. “A lot of these guys will tell you they’ll go to the emergency rooms, fake accidents, complain of chronic back pain - just anything to get their drugs. A lot of them have been to the methadone clinic attempting to get free of their opiate addiction ... but it doesn’t last for long, and eventually they’re having to buy again on the streets to supplement their daily supply of methadone.”
An ongoing problem
Richmond County Health Director Dr. Tommy Jarrell said the health department doesn’t usually treat patients who are just seeking prescription medications for pain and those types of things, though that doesn’t mean a private provider won’t.
“Each provider does things differently, but one of the things we do is to drug-test our patients to be sure they’re taking the drugs we’re prescribing them,” Jarrell said.
Health Department Medical Director Dr. Masoud Adieh explained physicians who prescribe narcotic medications are required to register with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the prescription is entered into a database.
“Pharmacists then look up the patient on the database to ensure they’re not abusing the medication - or getting it from different physicians,” he said. “Other than that, I don’t know that a lot has changed legally, recently that I know of.”
“(It’s) absolutely (a problem), and I’d say it’s on the rise,” Earnhardt said. “Part of the problem is that it’s just so readily available. Kids can access them from their parents’ medicine cabinets, people have them left over from injuries - they’re just available for people to take.”
Daymark Recovery Services is located at 116 S. Lawrence St., Rockingham. The phone number is (910) 895-2462.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.