Addiction to painkillers on the rise, police say
By Sarah Nagem
Local authorities say hydrocodone, which Candice Jo Drye’s family have said she was addicted to before she got arrested last week on a murder charge, is becoming more widely abused.
“This is the big thing coming up now,” said Lt. Shelia Lingle, who works in the criminal investigation division of the Salisbury Police Department.
Salisbury Police have made five arrests on hydrocodone charges so far this year, Lingle said.
That compares to nine arrests from 2005-2007, she said.
Authorities cite several factors influencing the increase.
“These drugs, they’re easier to get,” Lingle said.
Hyrocodone, a painkiller, is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Doctors wrote about 130 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing products in 2006, according to the DEA’s Web site. The painkiller comes in the form of prescribed drugs like Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet.
Lingle said that since the drug is prescribed by doctors, it’s often more accessible than illegal drugs like crack or cocaine.
It’s cheaper, too.
Drug users can buy a hydrocodone tablet on the street for a price between $3 and $5, said Capt. Kevin Auten of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. Auten worked with the office’s drug unit for 15 years before he took another position within the department a couple of years ago.
A crack rock costs about $20 on the street, Auten said. One gram of cocaine goes for anywhere from $40 to $60.
Auten said hydrocodone abuse has been on the rise in Rowan County for several years.
“The black market for pills … it’s so mobile anymore,” he said.
But patients have found ways to get an excessive amount of pills from doctors.
Authorities call it “doctor shopping.”
“They might go to five different doctors” for painkillers, Auten said.
The doctors usually don’t know the patient has already gotten prescriptions elsewhere, he said.
After seeing doctors, some people take their prescriptions to different pharmacies, Auten said.
Some local pharmacy owners say they keep track of who’s getting hydrocodone-containing drugs. They also record which doctors are prescribing them.
Drye, 23, of Mocksville, was arrested last Thursday in connection with the murder of Dr. David Boyd earlier that day.
The Salisbury dentist was found bound and strangled in his bedroom at the home he shared with his wife and three children near the Country Club of Salisbury.
Drye’s stepfather, Jerry Cruse, said Boyd had been prescribing hydrocodone for his stepdaughter.
Before he was killed, Boyd was the focus of a State Bureau of Investigation probe for reports that he was allegedly prescribing painkillers illegally.
When Charles Deadwyler, owner of Towne Pharmacy on Innes Street, heard reports about the murder, he checked his computer records to find out if Drye had gotten prescriptions filled at his business.
“She never got anything here,” Deadwyler said.
He also said that his pharmacy has not filled a lot of orders prescribed by Boyd.
The same is true at Innes Street Drug Co., which has two stores in Salisbury, said its owner, Mike Fuller.
Fuller said dentists normally don’t prescribe a lot of painkillers.
“That would raise a red flag for us,” he said.
“They prescribe it in very limited quantities. … Routinely, you should not have a lot of dental pain.”
Most prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing drugs come from pain clinics and orthopedic surgeons, Fuller said.
A two- or three-day supply of such drugs prescribed by a dentist is “a gracious plenty,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean some patients don’t want more. Salisbury Pharmacy reported to police in January that someone had stolen 10,000 hydrocodone pills, said Jon Post, who owns the store.
Post said his pharmacy has had other incidents, too. A couple of months ago, he said, someone tried to get forged prescriptions filled there.
And last week, someone snatched 90 hydrocodone pills from the counter as an employee was filling an order, Post said.
“We caught them on video,” he said.
Post said his pharmacy had not filled prescriptions for Drye.