Local authorities gear up for Operation Medicine Drop
A new law, which aims to help fight prescription drug fraud and abuse, officially went into effect last week. Under Senate Bill 474, pharmacies will be required to check photo identification before filling prescriptions for certain drugs including Oxycontin, Morphine, Methadone, Fentanyl and Vicodin. The new requirement applies to all Schedule II drugs and certain Schedule III drugs, as classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Powerful prescription drugs can be deadly when misused, and this law will help us fight the growing problem of prescription drug abuse,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
The new law is expected to cut down on the use of fraud to get prescriptions for painkillers that can be unsafe when abused or misused. Some prescription drug addicts visit multiple doctors to get prescriptions written under various names in order to feed their habit. Others copy legitimate prescriptions and have them filled for themselves. The law is also expected to curtail people coming to North Carolina from other states to fill fraudulent prescriptions.
According to Amy Elrod, Pharmacist at Franklin’s U-Save-It Pharmacy, there haven’t been any negative impacts of the law since it was enacted last week. Elrod stated that she believes the law will decrease the number of fraud cases involving obtaining prescription drugs. “We haven't had any problems with customers not having photo I.D. to get their prescriptions so far,” said Elrod.
Unlike Elrod, Bi-lo Pharmacist Tori O’Neill reports that the Bi-lo pharmacy has encountered a few problems since the law was enacted. “We have had some patients pull their prescriptions and say they are going to take it to a pharmacy that knows them and won’t ask for an ID,” said O’Neill. “Some people do not have photo ID’s and have had trouble, but we have worked with them to get things taken care of.”
O’Neill mentioned that under the new law, the person picking up the prescription must have a photo ID, regardless if they are picking up a prescription for themselves or for a friend. “We have to keep a log of who is picking up the prescription and what their relationship is to the patient, it can be a caregiver, a friend or a relative,” said O’Neill. “If the patient doesn’t have an ID, they can get someone who has an ID to pick it up and we record that in the log.”
“I think the law will help with fraudulent prescriptions,” said O’Neill. “Sometimes we get prescriptions called in that are illegal and are made up, and I think the new law will deter that from happening.”
Attorney General Roy Cooper is looking at other possible changes to the law to fight prescription drug abuse, including stronger penalties for tampering with prescription drugs and obtaining prescriptions illegally.
Major Shannon Queen with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is hopeful the new law will reduce the number of prescription frauds throughout the state, but believes additional changes to the law could be beneficial. According to Queen, the greatest problem Jackson County faces when dealing with prescription drugs is not necessarily fraud, but instead is more focused on the over prescribing of medications to patients. “It should assist in cutting down on prescription drug fraud, but the solution for a lot of prescription fraud will be cutting down on the overprescribing of medications without valid and curable complaints from patients,” said Queen.
According to Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland, while the new law should reduce the number of prescription drug fraud cases, the Sheriff’s Office is taking other measures to reduce all drug related crimes. “I do beleive the new law will help in fraud cases, but a lot of the drugs being obtained and sold are stolen from people’s homes,” said Holland. “Prescription drug abuse and fraud are prevalent crimes in this area and crimes such as break-ins and thefts often are committed as a means to fill drug habits.”
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in North Carolina and across the country, leading to more overdose deaths. Fatal drug overdoses are now the primary cause of death due to unintentional injury in the U.S., exceeding even motor vehicle deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Preliminary data from the N.C. Division of Public Health indicates that approximately 1,000 people died from prescription drug overdoses in North Carolina last year.
According to Sheriff Holland, the number of deaths caused by prescription drug overdose is higher than deaths caused by the illicit drugs cocaine and heroine combined.
Prescription drug abuse has become a growing problem in Jackson County, according to Queen. Major Queen also stated that without comparing hard data from surrounding counties, through collaborative efforts with neighboring counties, he believes there is an apparent trend of prescription drug related crimes across the board.
“Prescription drug related crimes are not just a problem locally, but are an increasing problem throughout the nation,” said Holland. “Because Macon County is so close to areas like Hendersonville and Charlotte, we do see a lot of trafficking cross the Georgia line, which is why we are stepping up our forces on the highway to be able to seize drugs before they ever reach the street.”
According to O’Neill, one of the greatest defenses pharmacies can provide to prevent drug overdoses is counseling for patients receiving new prescriptions. Education is a key component in understanding the affects that specific drugs can have on the body.
The State Bureau of Investigation has seen a 400 percent increase in prescription drug related cases over a five year period. SBI agents are currently working several cases involving large prescription drug forgery rings. The 11 agents with the SBI Divison and Environmental Crimes Unit particularly focus on cases involving doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others who abuse their positions to divert prescription drugs from lawful use and also work cases involving doctor shopping and overdose deaths.
“Our agents work to stop people with ready access from abusing or dealing in these dangerous drugs, especially when they’re responsible for providing medical care for others.” Cooper said.
Locally, both the Jackson County and Macon County Sheriff's Offices hold events known as Operation Medicine Drop, which allows citizens to dispose of unused prescription drugs without being questioned by authorities. During their last operation, Jackson County collected 2.5 pounds of prescriptions drugs throughout the county. “We are proud to now have a permanent prescription drug drop box in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office for citizens to utilize year round,” said Queen. “It has been in place since the Fall and has collected an additional 3/4 pound of medicine.”
Macon County will be holding their third annual Operation Medicine Drop this Saturday, March 24, as part of a statewide initiative which includes the NC SBI, the Franklin Police Department, the Highlands Police Department and Safe Kids of North Carolina. The drug take-back event will be collecting unused and expired prescription drugs in order to properly and safely dispose of the medications.
Accidental poisoning from prescription medications exceeds the national rate and is on the rise in North Carolina, with over 5,700 deaths since 1999. Operation Medicine Drop offers the public a free and convenient option to dispose of unwanted medications; it also keeps dangerous narcotics and other controlled substances from being stolen or otherwise diverted by drug abusers and drug dealers to be consumed or distributed illegally.
Medications will be collected from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at four locations in Macon County:
Highlands Pharmacy, Highlands
Main Street Pharmacy, Highlands
Sheriff Holland states: “This is the third year my Office has participated in this proactive initiative, which has collected over 155,000 dosage units from the public in Macon County. I am asking everyone to dispose of their medications safely and properly and I encourage all residents to take advantage of this program. Please do not flush medications down the drain or dispose of them in trash that ends up in the landfill. Please help us prevent accidental poisonings, drug abuse and in keeping drugs out of the hands of children.”