Sunday, October 12, 2003

Prescription drug overdose deaths rise in Jefferson Co.

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - More people in Jefferson County have died from prescription drug overdoses than in homicides this year.

Through July, 28 people died in homicide cases - 36 people died during that period from overdosing on prescription drugs such as OxyContin and hydrocodone.

Taken correctly, the pills are powerful painkillers, but when abused they produce intense rushes that can stop a person's heart.

"Homicides get publicized," said Jefferson County Deputy Coroner R.D. Jones. "Overdoses, whether accident or intentional, they don't get publicized."

Officials with the coroner's office said they've seen an increase in the past two years in deaths from prescription overdoses, though precise numbers for past years aren't available because the office is just now becoming computerized. Statistics for August and September aren't available because toxicology tests have not been completed.

The increase in fatal overdoses highlights a problem police said they've been dealing with for years. And their fear is that until all pharmacists and doctors understand how to recognize and stop prescription drug fraud, the number of overdoses will only grow. The issue made headlines two weeks ago when Oldham County authorities released information about a 19-year-old man who died at a party after taking OxyContin that had been stolen from a Jefferson County pharmacy.

"How many more deaths do we have to have?" said Sgt. Bill Stivers, who oversees the Louisville Metro Police drug diversion unit. "Isn't one too many? These aren't just pills, these are controlled substances killing people."

So far this year, Stivers' squad has arrested more than 215 people on charges related to prescription drug fraud, accusing them of posing as doctors, burglarizing pharmacies and stealing prescription forms. To stem the illegal use of prescription drugs, Louisville police said they must couple enforcement with education on what pharmacists and physicians should look for to recognize drug fraud.

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