Special Report: The Prescription for Addiction

Posted by: Melissa McKinney - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports Alabama pharmacists filled nearly 13 million controlled substance prescriptions in 2009, many of which were painkillers. That's more than 35,000 prescriptions per day.

Hamp Russell runs City Drug in Montgomery and says those prescriptions are flying out the door.

"I've been in pharmacy for 35 years and it's far greater now than it's ever been," he admits.

"The amount of people that's [SIC] addicted to prescription medications is phenomenal...it's absolutely scary," says Michael, who prefers to keep his last name anonymous.  He used to abuse Lortab.

He was a paramedic.  After an on-the-job injury, he got a Lortab prescription. Instead of stopping it when the pain ended, he kept taking them to get high.

"I cannot remember the last time that I've been turned down for a prescription that I've asked for."

He says the process is easy.

"Because most of the doctors now, they're so overwhelmed with patients...they don't take the time to really assess you."

Michael says doctor shopping--when patients go from one physician to another is common. And getting that high is pretty cheap.

"I can pay a $20 dollar co-pay and then a $3 prescription with my insurance, so I'm out $23 dollars and I have 60 Lortab."

Alabama law says getting a controlled substance through misrepresentation, fraud, or deception is a felony.

But Larry Dixon, Director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, says doctors get caught in the squeeze.

"Most of these guys are overworked and they just haven't got time to keep track of how many pills Ms. Smith has had."

Pharmacists like Russell are in the same boat.

"I just have to take the information I have access to and make a judgement from that."

In 2004, Alabama legislators passed a law for a statewide electronic prescription drug monitoring program to track doctors writing controlled substance prescriptions, pharmacies filling them, and patients getting them. It's a way for doctors and pharmacists to see if patients are shopping.

"If I find they're doctor shopping or pharmacy shopping, I don't honor their prescriptions. I dismiss them," says Russell.

He admits the method is working at least for his shop.

"I have learned that if you establish ground rules and people learn that you have ground rules, then they will go elsewhere."

But thousands of others aren't searching it as often.

"It's doing damage to a lot of people," says Michael.

It's a problem he says makes him wonder if the system even works.

"I don't know which system they're talking about."

Pharmacists are required to report controlled substance prescriptions on the site. But neither they nor doctors are required to look at it before writing them or filling them.  Medical board officials say legislation is needed to change that.

Senator Jeff Sessions sponsored national legislation to increase interstate monitoring.

Mississippi and Tennessee have similar programs, but legislation must pass to look inside those databanks.

If you are concerned about a loved one abusing prescription drugs, some symptoms are:

--Withdrawal from family

--Change in eating or sleeping habits

--Loss of energy

--Unexplained weight loss

--Irritability or restlessness

There are several private centers which offer help.  Also check out the Chemical Addictions Program in Montgomery at 334-269-2150.

Links to recovery information:


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