Deaths from legal drugs on rise, coroner says

Published 11:59 am Friday, June 15, 2012

Abuse of prescription medications, which Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace this week called the county’s fastest-growing drug problem, is also causing more deaths from accidental overdoses, Coroner Doug Huskey said Thursday.

About 15 Warren County residents died from prescription drugs last year, Huskey told the Vicksburg Rotary Club Thursday. Specific year-by-year statistics are not maintained, he said.

“Some years there are more than others, but I’ve seen it probably double since I became coroner,” he said in a separate interview. “Most of the time it’s hydrocodone, Lortabs, Lorcet, morphine, fentanyl, drugs like that.”

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Huskey, 53, took office after winning a special election in 2006 and was re-elected in 2007 and 2011.

Huskey said some of the deaths are among users who are prescribed medications for pain management and over time find the drug becoming less effective.

“They get to taking more, then they take it with something else, like alcohol, and end up accidentally overdosing,” he said.

The state’s coroners receive training from the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics to help them recognize specific drugs, he said.

Pace announced the arrests Wednesday of 11 Warren County residents on charges related to misuse of oxycodone and hydrocodone, both classified as Schedule II or III controlled medications under the Controlled Substances Act, and Xanax, a Schedule IV drug.

Deputies and agents with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration conducted a yearlong investigation, Pace said, tracking cases of “doctor shopping” in which people go to a number of different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for the narcotic they are using or selling.

Illegally diverting, using and selling prescription drugs is outpacing the use of methamphetamine and cocaine, the sheriff said.