As struggles with drug addiction continue to challenge families across the area and nation, local law enforcement agencies are also working to better understand and prevent the complex issue.
Law enforcement officials say that addiction is one of, if not the most, common element that officers and investigators deal with when responding to and investigating local crime. Addiction to drugs and alcohol frequently provides motive for crimes like burglary, theft, and sometimes more violent crimes.
A major issue that police have seen is an increase in the abuse of prescription drugs, which police officials say often leads to the abuse of more dangerous street drugs. According to West Chester Borough Police Department Chief Scott Bohn and narcotics detective Andy McFarlane, users often feel safe taking prescription drugs because they are perceived as “cleaner” than street drugs like cocaine and heroin.
The addiction is becoming increasingly widespread, and over the past five years has overtaken cocaine and crack cocaine as the top illegal “hard” drug. The addiction to prescription drugs is also difficult to prevent, McFarlane and Bohn said, because large amounts of pills are available in almost every home, leftover from previous injuries and surgeries and forgotten.
“Instead of going to a crack dealer on a street corner, suburban kids are getting powerful prescription drugs out of bathroom medicine cabinets,” said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. “Parents need to realize that just because you live in a nice suburban neighborhood does not make your children immune from drug abuse.”
In addition to the dangers of prescription drugs themselves, McFarlane and Bohn said, once the supply of pills dries up, users are forced to feed their addiction in a different way. Street drugs like heroin, cocaine, and PCP are more difficult to come by, and more dangerous, but they are also cheaper. Once a leftover bottle of painkillers is gone, the addict is forced to find an alternative to feed their new appetite.
And that, police say, is when addiction often leads to addicts placing themselves in dangerous situations, or worse, committing crime as a means to provide for their addiction.
“More often than not the first intervention comes with an arrest, they don’t look for help on their own,” Bohn said. “As a parent you need to police it. I don’t think they realize how serious the pills can be.”
Bohn and McFarlane, a narcotics detective who is also a recognized in county and federal court as an expert in drug investigations, said that police typically see that increases in addiction leads to a rise in criminal activity. Other officials agreed with that assessment.
“Just in the past year, we have seen drug addiction play a direct role in crimes varying from retail theft all the way up to homicide,” Hogan said. “Desparate people who are using drugs make terrible and often life-destroying decisions.
Hogan and other officials like Bohn stressed the importance of prevention, and said that parents can take precautions to reduce the risk of addiction by paying attention to what they are storing in their own homes.
“Parents have to be sensitive and alert that they have these substances in their home, and that there is the potential for addiction to happen,” Bohn said, noting the dangers brought by the increased strength of modern medications. “It’s much more dangerous, what these kids have access to now.”
There are efforts in place to prevent and reduce prescription pill addiction, including a Prescription Drug Take-Back Day conducted twice a year by the Drug Enforcement Agency and police departments across the country.
Westtown-East Goshen Regional Police Department Lieutenant William Cahill, who is also a recognized court expert in drug investigations, said the operation is a valuable tool for reducing the rate of drug abuse. He said his department typically collects over 100 pounds of prescription medication every time the event is held.
“It’s been very valuable to us to help minimize the risk of unwanted and unused drugs falling into the hands of someone they are not prescribed to,” Cahill said.
Cahill agreed that drug addiction continues to play a major role in local crime, and hopes that the DEA continues to coordinate the take-back operations.
“We’ve had an increase in property crime, and we’ve found that the number one underlying factor is illegal drug addiction,” Cahill said. “All of our recent home-invasion robberies have tied back to drugs.”
Most officials agree that prevention, and not enforcement, is the best way to combat drug addiction. Users are getting younger, and often come from stable and comfortable family environments.
“The profile (of a user) has changed,” Bohn said. “Certainly there are no easy solutions, we need people to be active participants and realize that we (police) can’t be everywhere at every time. The first intervention is in the home.”
Police officials said that investigators are learning that drugs have infiltrated the areas schools, and that more and more young people are turning to criminal activity to finance their addictions.
“There aren’t many addicts we meet that start at age 30,” McFarlane said.
- Posted: Sunday, 01/06/13 12:27 pm