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Authorities warn of danger of prescription drug abuse
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Experts are warning parents about what they're calling the number one drug problem in the U.S. and in Michigan.
You might think they're harmless, but the CDC says prescription pain killers cause nearly 15,000 deaths every year.
Many law enforcement agencies have secure drug drop boxes, and experts encourage everyone, especially parents to take advantage of those so their unused or expired meds don't fuel someone else's addiction.
"Oxycontin, Vicodin, Opana, Methadone. They hit the same receptors in your brain and in your stomach that heroin does," said Clay Stiffler, assistant U.S. attorney.
In a 2011 case, Stiffler went after Nicholas Shook and Shelly Wolfsen, convicted of stealing Fentanyl patches from Corium International's Kentwood plant and selling them.
"What these abusers were doing is actually taking rejected patches off the assembly line and tearing the patches up," said Stiffler.
Fentanyl is just one Opioid getting into the wrong hands. According to the DEA, six out of 10 of the drugs teenagers most commonly abuse are prescriptions.
"They go to the medical cabinet, pilfer some of the pills," said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Pat Miles. "The parent doesn't notice because they're not keeping track."
Miles and his team also prosecute doctors who prescribe drugs with no legitimate medical purpose. Michigan Dr. Frederick Hogan pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of Oxycodone.
Counts two through 102 were dismissed.
But whether the downward spiral starts at the pharmacy, or on the street, users are increasingly turning to a cheaper, harder alternative.
"Nearly every Heroin addict I talk to these days started on prescription drugs," said Stiffler. "It's a surprise to a lot of parents. They associate Heroin abuse with hardcore 1960s, 1970s needle users, and they don't realize the dangers that are lurking in their medicine cabinets."
According to the CDC enough prescription pain killers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.