Prescription Drug Deaths on the Rise

September 20, 2006
Reported by Rhonda Kitchens

Zeb Johnson of the Calcasieu Coroner's Office says, "The prescription drug problem is not a new problem to our area."

Or, he says, any area throughout the country. "Almost every coroner's jurisdiction in the United States is having a problem with prescription drug abuse."

In fact, Johnson says, the number of deaths is now at record proportions. "It's reached the point where we're looking at two prescription drug overdoses a week."

And the face of those at risk has changed dramatically over the past few years.

"It's a different culture," says Johnson, "it's not like the people that deal in crack cocaine, or heroin, or marijuana, things like that. These people are good, decent, everyday people, that are out there earning a living."

Leading many, he says, to place blame, instead of seeking education in search of an answer.

"The things that we hear from people are that they're always blaming the doctor, the problem is its not the doctors."

Johnson says, the drugs being prescribed are safe when taken by patients with ligitimate pains and in the right dosage. "For instance, most of the prescriptions for Hydrocodone are one or two pills every six hours. We have people that are taking five Hydrocodone and five Soma's at a time."

And the result, he says, can be lethal.

"They affect the respiratory system and when they do that, these people normally die a respiratory death."

But Johnson says knowing the signs of danger could make a difference.

"We have family members, we have friends who say oh, yeah, we noticed that they were all messed up, but then they went to sleep and they were snoring on the couch. What was happening, these people were in a coma when they were snoring. So, if you have people that are on pain medication and you find them in that unconcious stuper with that loud snoring, you need to get them to the hospital, because they're almost to the point of no return."

Johnson says a number of overdose investigations show the patient had visited several doctors along the I-10 corridor to obtain the medication. He says most Lake area pain management physicians and pharmacies are doing a good job at monitoring their patients prescriptions