By JB Clark
TUPELO – Prescription drug abuse in Northeast Mississippi is following the upward national trend, but unlike the nation, the region has not seen a large influx of heroin or marijuana.
Tupelo Police Capt. Marvis Bostic of the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit said diverted prescription drugs being sold and used recreationally now are rivaling methamphetamine, marijuana and crack in the number of users. The department made more arrests for people selling, intending to sell or conspiring to sell prescription drugs than for sales of any other drug category in the 2013 fiscal year.
“I think that people feel more safe, obviously, taking something that comes from a pharmaceutical company rather than somewhere they don’t know,” Bostic said. “When it comes out of a bottle with a company’s name attached to it, you can count on some level of legitimacy or at least a consistent reaction. There are no ups and downs as far as how much cutting agent is mixed in.”
Bostic said that quasi-justification among users seems to be a big factor for the increase in usage.
Nearly 1 in every 12 high school seniors reported using Vicodin (a prescription painkiller) for nonmedical use in 2011, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse. One in 20 abused OxyContin.
In 2009, the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit made 78 arrests for selling, conspiring to sell or intending to sell prescription drugs. In 2013, that number jumped to 294.
The unit covers the jurisdictions of the cities of Tupelo, Booneville, Fulton, Pontotoc, Okolona and Amory and the counties of Lee, Prentiss, Itawamba and Chickasaw and is made up of officers from each agency.
“People were a little more resistant to taking a lot of pharmaceuticals 25 years ago than today,” Bostic said. “That change in attitude has contributed to the growth in abusing pharmaceuticals.”
No other drug category has seen such a steady rise.
“Obviously, it’s easier to hide an addiction with a legitimate prescription, like by claiming to have terminal pain,” Bostic said. “I have seen people who have done that, and it seems to me that people’s attitudes toward taking stuff is not the same as it used to be.”
Arrests for manufacturing meth have, inversely, plummeted since the passage of a 2010 law, which made possession of multiple precursor ingredients to the manufacture of meth illegal. The law also made pseudoephedrine a prescription drug.
In 2009, 338 arrests were made for the manufacture of methamphetamine. That number dipped to 23 in 2013.
While manufacture of the drug is almost nonexistent in the region compared to previous years, Bostic said the drug hasn’t gone away.
“Now we see ice, the crystallized version, being imported from Mexico,” he said. The narcotics unit has made 62 arrests for distribution of meth in 2013 compared to 14 in 2009.
Heroin saw a bump in 2013, but there was no rising trend in the preceding years. Bostic said this year’s bump was due to a small group of people importing heroin who were arrested earlier in the year.
Nationally, the Drug Enforcement Agency said trafficking of Mexican-made heroin contributed to an increase in availability in 2012 in their yearly drug threat assessment summary.
Bostic said marijuana use has stayed fairly constant in the region, while the Drug Enforcement Agency has reported seeing an increase in Mexican-grown marijuana in other areas of the United States. Bostic said the only change in the marijuana they see is a higher concentration of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana plants, implying it was grown professionally by people who have experience with the plants.
The National Institute for Drug Abuse said 70 percent of high school seniors who abused prescription drugs in 2011 claimed to have gotten the drugs from a family friend or relative.
“The vast majority of folks who abuse pharmaceuticals’ supply comes from folks who have a legitimate prescription and aren’t taking all or any of it,” Bostic said. “They’re not robbing a warehouse.”
He said the best way to make sure prescription drugs don’t end up in the hands of family, friends, children or drug dealers is to utilize drug drop-off days at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office or other agencies participating in national drug take-backs throughout the year.
“If you have pharmaceuticals that you aren’t going to take anymore and are concerned about children or neighbors getting into, you can take some cat litter and crush the pills up in the cat litter and throw it into the garbage,” Bostic said.
He said being aware of prescriptions and making sure they get taken or disposed of is important in keeping them out of the wrong people’s hands.