News 12 Special Assignment: Prescription for death

There have been 12 fatal overdoses in Richmond County alone in 2013. The youngest victim, just 18 years old. The CDC has started calling prescription overdose a

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News 12 at 11 o' clock/ Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) --The CDC has started calling prescription drug abuse a 'nationwide epidemic,' and our area has not escaped the problem.

Sgt. Allan Rollins with the RCSO Narcotics Division says, "One of the things we're seeing is a swing upwards in the use of prescription pills."

That's why narcotics officers are thankful for the record breaking pill collection during the most recent drug take back. 250 pounds of prescription pills were surrendered in Richmond County alone during the event.

Sgt. Rollins says, "Getting it out of the medicine cabinets where it's old medicine, and they have easy access to it: pain medicine, sleeping medication, it can be any of it, it's important to get it off the streets."

Presciption drug abuse is a subject that hits close to home for Marie Westerman. She lost both her mother and sister to prescription overdose

"It's every birthday. It's every holiday. There's just a piece missing," she says.

She lives with that pain everyday, and it worries her that more and more families are having to deal with the same pain.

"It's [prescription drugs] going to alter you, just the same as that cocaine or crack. It's going to change you, it's going to change your thinking, and it can be deadly to you," she says.

Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten says in the past few years, he's witnessed a deadly trend.

"[We've seen] a dramatic increase of drug overdoses on prescription drugs," he tells News 12's Laura Warren.

He says it's been a silent problem in Augusta, but now, the number of fatal overdoses are starting to speak for themselves.

"So far this year in Richmond County, 12 that we know of and can identify," he says.

Narcotics officers have seen the same problem as they watch their prescription drug caseload creep up.

Sgt. Rollins says, "It's always been a problem, but it was always localized and always kind of small, but it is really really taking over now, and it's kind of worrisome."

Tuten says, "Now, what we're seeing is the younger generation are using grandma and grandpa's pain pills, and they're selling them in the street. A Xanax can go for $10-$12 in the street and the schools."

Sgt. Rollins says it's a difficult problem to fight because prescriptions aren't illegal, and many who have a problem don't think it will hurt them.

He says, "When you buy drugs off the street like meth or coke, you don't really know what you're getting. But on this one, when you walk in, you've got a pill bottle, you know exactly what's in the container. And, they feel safer with it because it's a pharmaceutical drug, it's not just something brought in off the street."

Tuten says, "They take them to alleviate the pain, and they don't realize when you mix more than one different type of drug together, it could be fatal."

Westerman says her family knows firsthand though, it's just not worth it.

"Life is meant to be lived, and to give it up over a feel good, 'I always want to feel good,' you can't. That's impossible. So go through it. Don't look for that fix in something," Westerman says.

The youngest person who has died from prescription overdose this year in Richmond County was just 18 years old. If you have old prescriptions lying around your house, you can bring them to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. They have a drop box in their lobby for old pills.

Nov. 6, 2013

About one in five Americans has taken prescription drugs illegally, according to an estimate by MedlinePlus, the National Institutes of Health's website.

"It is a serious and growing problem," according to the website.

The three most common types of prescription drugs that are used illegally are:

• Depressants (e.g. barbiturates, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills)
• Opioids (e.g. codeine, morphine and methadone)
• Stimulants (amphetamines and methylphenidate)

To learn more about prescription drug abuse in the U.S. and its potential health consequences, go to the MedlinePlus website.

Also, be sure to watch Laura Warren's special assignment on how the number of prescription drug overdose cases has dramatically increased in our area. Laura is also going to tell you why you should care.

The story will air tonight at 11 o'clock.


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