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Supporting addiction through crime

Paraphernalia associated with prescription drug abuse includes syringes, a modified spoon and Vicodin tablets. [Clint Austin / News Tribune]

Problems associated with prescription drugs are not limited to the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Deputy Police Chief John Beyer said the city of Duluth is seeing an increase in crime involving illegally diverted pharmaceuticals. Offenses include stealing prescription sheets, adding a line to turn a prescription for 10 pills into 70 pills, robbing drug stores and stealing pills from a family's bathroom medicine cabinet after hosting a party.

"They're predominately stealing it for themselves because they need it, and they are desperate,'' Beyer said. "Over the last couple of years we've had several pharmacy robberies where criminals enter and take pharmaceutical drugs and not ask for any money. They don't need the money to buy drugs because they get the drugs in the robbery.''

Pasek Pharmacy in downtown Duluth was victimized last year by a robber who entered the store wearing a ski mask and carrying a loaded pistol while passing a note to an employee demanding morphine. On Oct. 11, Falk's Kenwood Pharmacy was robbed by a man demanding Oxycontin and oxycodone pills and threatening to shoot.

"There's not violence associated with pharmaceuticals with the frequency you see in the cocaine industry and the methamphetamine trade," said Duluth police Lt. Dan Chicos, "but whenever you have people who need drugs, or are trading them or bartering them and there's some profitability, there's always the potential for violence.'' Chicos is commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force.

Chicos said he remembers a man who was so hooked on pain-killers that he purposely shot himself in the leg to get more of them.

And here's a scary piece of information for parents: Police have received reports that some teenagers are taking part in what are called "pharm parties.''

"A pharm party is basically a bunch of young people that get together and everyone will bring some type of pharmaceutical or prescription narcotic to the party,'' Chicos said. "Someone will say, 'My grandma takes Lortabs, I'll bring the Lortabs.' Someone else brings Ritalin. Someone brings Oxycontin. Basically, it creates a smorgasbord of prescription narcotics at the party.''

The pills are sometimes dangerously mixed with alcohol and illicit drugs. Beyer and Chicos said a real problem is that too many kids believe that if a doctor prescribes a drug, it must be safe for everyone.

"They're not,'' Chicos said. "With any narcotic there are certain regulations. A doctor knows exactly the reason for prescribing a specific medication. But taking a medication for something that it's not intended to be taken for is potentially dangerous and harmful.''

According to a report issued in January by the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy:

* More young people ages 12-17 abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined.

* The prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens are painkillers, depressants such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs and stimulants, mainly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

* Unintentional poisoning deaths involving narcotics and hallucinogens grew55 percent from 1999 to 2004.

* Every day, 2,500 youth abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time.

* Teens are also abusing some over-the-counter cough and cold remedies to get high.

* The majority of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them easily and free, primarily from friends and relatives.

* Teens say their parents are not discussing the dangers with them, even though research shows that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep teens from using drugs.

* There has been a dramatic increase in the number of poisonings and deaths associated with the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.