Carteret County Fighting Growing Prescription Drug Problem

By: April Davis/ Kelsie Smith
By: April Davis/ Kelsie Smith

The abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem across the country and right here in the east. It's being investigated as a possible factor in the death of Whitney Houston.

Here in the east, statistics show in 2009, Carteret County had the most prescriptions written in the east and the third highest in the entire state. Law enforcement says the abuse of prescription drugs is causing crime and doctors tell us they're also seeing an increase in patients requesting narcotic pain medications.

Kelsie Smith sat down with those on the front lines of the drug battle and one woman who says she became an addict after major surgery.

"I am the face of an addict," recovering addict Amy Taylor said.

It wasn't the life 35-year-old Taylor pictured for herself.

"I was a registered nurse. I knew better. Well, I should have known better," said Taylor.

It was back in 2006 Taylor says she had gastric bypass and then 6 follow-up surgeries within a 2-year period. Taylor says after every surgery she was prescribed opiates.

"Eventually as you take them you don't take them as prescribed and you take more than you should," said Taylor.

Taylor is not alone. Doctor Michael Towarnicky of Carolina East Medical Center says the last 10-15 years has seen an explosion in prescription drug abuse.

"What I've seen is an increasing number of patients coming in and requesting narcotic pain medications for chronic pain," said Doctor Michael Towarnicky.

Dr. Towarnicky says some patients have chronic pain, however, what he's running into on a regular basis is doctor shopping: people going to multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions. That's how Taylor says she fed her addiction .

"Part of the insanity of being an addict is running around trying to remember who you saw last," said Taylor.

And lawmen say the desperation to get prescription drugs is getting worse in Carteret County. Sheriff Asa Buck says it's also increasing the crime rate.

"About half of our cases are legal drugs and then the other half of the cases we investigate and prosecute revolve around prescription medication and diversion of those prescription drugs," said Sheriff Buck.

This growing problem prompted the Carteret County Sheriff's Office to apply for a grant through the governor's crime commission to fund an investigator who would work solely on prescription drug diversion.

"The problem here is our problem and so we're working hard to try to do what we can to combat the drug problem in our county, illegal drugs and prescription drugs." said Sheriff Buck.

Sheriff Buck says part of the problem is the availability of prescription narcotics and other highly abused drugs like anxiety medication. In 2009 just in Carteret County, there was an average of 400,000 opiod dosage units dispensed each month. With statistics showing 26 people died from prescription drugs in 2009 in Carteret County, Sheriff Buck says this is a public health concern, and he advises people to keep their prescriptions in a locked or hidden place.

"It's not hard once you're in somebody's home. If you're there legally or if you break into someone's home and you're there illegally, it's not hard to find out where the drugs are," said Sheriff Buck.

In the meantime, addicts like Amy Taylor hope to win their own battle against prescription drugs. Taylor is currently 24 days clean - this time. She relapsed in November of last year after being sober since 2007.

"I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I know by the grace of God I have today," said Taylor.

Taylor is recovering at Hope Recovery Homes, Inc. In Morehead City. She is in a 180-day program and says although she is feeling well and taking one day at a time.

The Carteret County Sheriff's Office hopes to find out if it will receive the grant to fund an investigator position specifically for prescription drug diversion within about a month.

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