Friday, September 24, 2010

The War on Prescription Drugs

A Wave of Addiction & Crime, With Medicine Cabinet to Blame:

Police departments have collected thousands of handguns through buy-back programs in communities throughout the country. Now they want the contents of your medicine cabinet.

Opiate painkillers and other prescription drugs, officials say, are driving addiction and crime like never before, with addicts singling out the homes of sick or elderly people and posing as potential buyers at open houses just to raid the medicine cabinets. The crimes, and the severity of the nation’s drug abuse problem, have so vexed the authorities that they are calling on citizens to surrender old bottles of potent pills like Vicodin, Percocet and Xanax.
Er, hold the phone a minute: a "wave of addiction and crime like never before"? Didn't we just see another decline in the crime rate? Isn't crime at a virtual all-time low?

The answer is yes, of course, which means the wording and headline of this story are automatically suspect.

But excluding the hype, is there something to this trend?
From rural New England to the densely populated South, law enforcement officials are combating a sharp rise in crime tied to prescription drugs.

“We’re seeing people desperately and aggressively trying to get their hands on these pills,” said Janet T. Mills, the attorney general in Maine. “Home invasions, robberies, assaults, homicides, thefts — all kinds of crimes are being linked to prescription drugs.”

In other states, the authorities say, pill thieves have infiltrated open houses.

“One will distract the Realtor,” said Matthew Murphy, assistant special agent in charge at the D.E.A.’s New England field division in Boston, “while the other goes and rifles through the medicine cabinet looking for pain medication.”

Look, I'm not suggesting that addiction to legal prescription painkillers isn't a huge and growing problem (Oxycontin, the "hillbilly heroin," in particular). But the so-called evidence being proffered here as a "new wave of addiction and crime" sounds anecdotal at best. Not to mention, can a "take-back" program for your old prescriptions, along the lines of gun buyback program, really work?

Skeptics, pointing to the dearth of evidence that gun buybacks have reduced the gun crime rate, question whether even a national take-back effort will have much impact. And they question whether most people will bother to participate when the take-back programs, unlike the gun programs, do not offer a reward for turning in pills.

There is also the reality that many people intentionally hang on to pain or anxiety medicine for future use.

Frankly, the whole thing sounds suspicious. Can you turn in just a ziploc bag of smack, or do you have to drop off the bottle as well? Because the amount of personal information on your prescription bottles could be used for information gathering purposes, and not for altruistic reasons.

Again, with property crime dropping to new lows recently, I wonder how much of this is media hype and how much reality. While painkillers need to be watched, drugs like Meth are destroying entire communities, and we have evidence of that.

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