Region's biggest substance problem is legal drugs used illegally

By Abrad · Aug 13, 2006 · ·
  1. Abrad
    Over the years, the drug trade in Sullivan County has changed.

    There's been an influx at various times of marijuana, LSD, heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, just to name a few.

    And in the last decade, drug officers have broken up more than one major drug ring including all kinds of illegal narcotics.

    Those drugs are still around, but one that many people might not think of has a legal and legitimate use.

    "Our biggest problem from a standpoint of the number of people involved (in drugs) is not crack cocaine," said District Attorney General Greeley Wells.

    The most abused drug? Prescription pain medication.

    "It's more abused than anything else, and because they're in the medicine cabinet, kids can get them," Wells said. "Most kids caught with drugs have gotten them from their parents' medicine cabinet."

    But it's not just abuse of legitimately obtained prescription drugs. Another real problem is forged prescriptions.

    "We probably prosecute 75 to 100 cases a year for prescription drug fraud," Wells said.

    Pain medications are very addictive, Wells said, so when someone has a legitimate need for them, they can get hooked.

    "Most of these drugs have a real use, and most were developed for people with great pain," he said.

    Kingsport Police Chief Mark Addington tells the story of a conversation he overheard at a ball game.

    Addington said he heard two women talking about an ankle sprain one had, and he expected to hear that she doctored it by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever and applying ice to the injury.

    Instead, she relayed that she went to the doctor and got a prescription for Lortab.

    "The soccer mom takes Lortab and keeps going. The pain medication is a bigger problem than people realize, it's almost overwhelming," he said.

    Such medicines can also be an entry point for using heavier drugs, Wells said.

    "Drug problems are widespread in society. People would be surprised at how the drug problem stretches across all demographics."

    Addington said he's seen cases involving people who have standing in the community.

    "I know of three cases in the past year where college-educated, professional people in the medical industry are diverting prescription medication for their own use," he said.

    Addington also told the Times-News that more people in Northeast Tennessee use prescription medications than any other part of the state.

    "People out here on pain pills, I swear it's becoming an epidemic. They quit work because they're hooked on painkillers."

    Wells said even with the number of active prescription drug fraud cases in Sullivan County, drug officers still have to deal with the marijuana and cocaine trade.

    In the last two years, there have been two double-murder cases in Kingsport that police say are drug related.

    Because the cases have not been resolved, Wells said he could not discuss the specifics involved.

    But he did say that as long as there is a demand for drugs, drugs will be available.

    "The general perception of the public is that drug-related crimes are committed by addicts. That's not true," Wells said.

    Instead, it's an issue of money and profit that drives drug-related crime.

    "People here have money to buy drugs. That's one thing that drives the drug trade," he said.

    In addition to that, the drug trade is affected somewhat by race.

    "The selling of crack cocaine is largely a black issue. Other types of drugs are a white issue," he said, adding that prescription drugs and methamphetamine are primarily "white" drugs.

    Still, local officials agree that it's prescription drugs that have taken the new stronghold in the area.

    Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry said the problem is here and isn't going away anytime soon.

    "If you look at some of the crimes we're seeing, they're related back to drugs. I'm not talking about just crack cocaine and powder cocaine. It relates back to prescription drugs - morphine patches and all these things. We're just seeing an overabundance of prescriptions being written for Lortab or Xanax. We're not just trading coke and pot anymore, we're trading those things (for others)," he said.

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  1. Bobob
    I live in Knoxville and the tri cities aren't immune. Pain pills and fly by night pill mills are where the problems are. People are dying and people are getting rich selling lots of pills. Something has to change.
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