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Prescription medications top list of illegal drugs bought in sting operation

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By Sharon Graves

While cocaine and heroin allegedly were purchased from some of the 68 people indicted and eventually arrested during a five-county, 18-month investigation, officials say the illegal sale of prescription drugs is a huge problem.

Prescription medications can easily fall into the wrong hands because most everyone knows someone who has a prescription for some sort of painkiller.

Topping the list of illicit drugs are oxycontin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, percocet and darvocet. Each of these were purchased by undercover investigators during the sting operation, according to court records. Others commonly abused are Ritilan, which is prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, and anti-anxiety medications.

Drug users will crush the pills and snort them through the nostrils to get high, according to Carroll County Sheriff Ben Smith. One problem with this method, he said, is that many of the pills are time-released formulas. Therefore, when they are crushed, the person gets the full force of a drug that, when taken correctly, can be in the system for hours.

Law enforcement officials say heroin and cocaine are making a comeback in rural areas because, on the street, they cost about half as much as the prescription painkillers.

Some people may want to believe drugs aren’t a problem in Carroll and the surrounding rural counties, but that’s not the case, said Jim Crawford, Carroll County’s commonwealth attorney.

“Obviously I’ve known this is a problem of mammoth proportions,” Crawford said during a recess Monday in Circuit Court at the Wheeler Hall of Justice. “But everything has to be taken into perspective. We don’t have anything like the big cities have, but you want to think you don’t have any problems at all. You live in this little cocoon and you don’t see all of this.”

“There is a certain amount [of illegal drug activity] that goes on in every community.,” Crawford said. “These pills have become more of a problem; they are easy for them [abusers] to get a hold of, and they are pretty dangerous. These pain pills, they get hooked on them and it’s hard to get off.  I don’t know what it will take for people to get it that these pills are dangerous.”

Crawford said most of the adults arrested in last week’s dragnet operation have been through juvenile programs.

“They’ve been through this before,” he said.  “I think it is pretty frustrating for some of these parents. You do the best  you can by them, and you hope that at some point they get it.”

Drugs find their way to the “street” in many different ways, and law enforcement officers understand how it happens.

“All these kids have cars; they can go to Cincinnati, they can go to Louisville,” Crawford said. “From the way I understand, Cincinnati is more prevalent. They go to Over-the-Rhine and they can buy heroin and cocaine right off the street corner, like they were out there [buying] candy.”

“There’s an area over in Shelby County that you can do the same thing,” Crawford continued. “These kids have all got their own ability to do all this stuff. So when you say to me, ‘I don’t think we have any dealers here,’ that’s not where they are doing this, they are going to the larger metropolitan areas and bringing it back here.”

“Follow the money,” is an adage that rings true for investigations, and is also true in the illegal drug trade.  

At the center of most crimes committed in the area is the need for drugs and money to buy drugs, Smith said. If drug use could be curbed, crime would drop drastically.

“In many of the burglaries in the county, the first place the thief goes to is the medicine cabinet,” Smith said.  Burglars look on the kitchen table, windowsills, and nightstands, the common places where people set their medications.

“What other things that are stolen are used to buy drugs,” he added.

Smith said it takes months and months of undercover detective work to really make a difference in curbing the drug problem locally.

Those involved in Thursday’s Operation Round-Up have been on the case for months with undercover operatives making drug buys and documenting every word and every buy, he said.