By BOOTH GOODWIN
CHARLESTON -- The epidemic of prescription drug abuse has grown into the biggest crime problem in southern West Virginia and in the entire country. Prescription drug abuse tears apart families and has put entire communities in danger. Nearly everyone knows someone who has had to face the consequences of prescription drug abuse, either firsthand or through a loved one.
Even if you do not know someone who has been hurt directly, prescription drug abuse leads to other crime. It is the main cause of thefts and burglaries in southern West Virginia. Worse than that, our region recently has seen a wave of terrifying home invasions by prescription drug addicts looking for pills or for money to buy pills. The prescription drug crisis puts everybody at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose in the United States, and this worsening trend is driven by prescription painkillers: opioid pain relievers are responsible for more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined, and two-thirds of teens who abuse painkillers say they get them from family members and friends (Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health).
In the past two years, my office -- the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia -- has successfully prosecuted nearly 200 prescription drug dealers. Working with law enforcement agencies, we have shut down pill mills across southern West Virginia. We have prosecuted doctors and pharmacists who abuse their prescription power to pour illegal pills into our communities.
But this is not a problem that can be solved solely through tougher law enforcement. Research shows that the most successful way to prevent drug abuse is to prevent drug use in the first place. As part of our ongoing effort to take down the prescription drug abuse epidemic, my office and my fellow federal prosecutors around the country recently teamed up with the Partnership at Drugfree.org to educate citizens about the dangers that lurk in medicine cabinets across the country.
Last month, we launched a multi-year Medicine Abuse Project campaign to shine a brighter light on this epidemic and to educate the public about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
For many people, especially teenagers, the road to addiction starts with pills they find in their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets. That’s why my office joined with many other law enforcement officials in support of the fifth National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Sept. 28.
I asked citizens to join the fight against the prescription drug epidemic by getting rid of their own unwanted and expired medications as part of the Take-Back effort. The response was remarkable.
The Prescription Drug Take-Back collected a total of 3,742 pounds of drugs statewide. That’s almost two tons of unwanted prescription drugs out of people’s medicine cabinets. It’s two tons of medicine that can’t hurt anyone’s children or grandchildren. It’s two tons of drugs that we know won’t contribute to our state’s prescription drug problem. Everyone involved in Saturday’s Take-Back event should be very proud of the difference they’ve made. It’s a great victory for West Virginia.
The total from the latest Take-Back Day will be added to the four previous Take-Back events, which yielded a combined total of more than 1.5 million pounds, or 774 tons, of unwanted and expired prescription drugs nationwide.
My office and the entire law enforcement community will continue our attack on this problem. We will keep aggressively prosecuting out-of-state drug dealers who peddle their poison in our communities. We will also continue to shut down open-air drug markets and stop new pill mills from starting up.
But to succeed in this fight, we need your continued support. Talk to your children and grandchildren about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. If you witness illegal prescription drug activity in your neighborhood, please report it the police. And keep an eye out for the next Prescription Drug Take-Back, which will be announced soon. Together, we can end the prescription drug epidemic in West Virginia.
Goodwin is the United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, which includes 23 southern West Virginia counties.