ESCANABA - Though prescription drug abuse and misuse is a growing problem throughout the U.S., Delta County has also been affected, as the number of prescription drug-related cases continues to rise.
Delta County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Parks said the problem has become very serious in just the past decade.
"Everyday we have something, and sometimes, multiple, things that involve prescription drugs," said Parks, on the prescription-drug related cases coming through the prosecutor's office. He said 10 years ago, these cases didn't exist.
According to unofficial statistics from the Delta County Circuit Court, the number of controlled substance cases in the county - including prescription drugs - has risen from 139 cases from 1990-1999, to 423 cases from 2000-2009.
"What's extremely troubling about it is, that when I first took office in 2005, there was a lot of pills being used, but people have graduated to IV (intravenous) drug use, and we have many, many people in this community that are actually IV drug addicts," said Parks, as many liquefy their pills for injection.
Since taking office, he's watched as many different pills become popular and accessible, including opioids (opiates) such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and methadone.
"Originally it was things like Vicodin and OxyContin, and then people started abusing Ritalin and Adderall, which are typically prescribed for their kids with attention deficit issues," he said.
More recently, the problem has turned to a drug called Suboxone, used to help people who suffer from opioid addiction.
"When I was a kid, people ... used methadone. Methadone was their claimed bridge to sobriety. And Suboxone is medicines that answer to opioid addiction and now what we're seeing is all kinds of people using and abusing Suboxone," he added.
Another concern is the amount of people who drive under the influence of drugs. Parks said there have often been cases where people are pulled over for drunken driving, but when they take a roadside breath test, the results are negative.
"The reason for that is that they've either had one pill or a number of pills and they're impaired and as dangerous as anybody could be who is severely drunk," he noted.
The problem with prescription drugs is not limited to cases of possession, driving or delivery of pills, but extends even further into other areas of crime.
"People who are addicted, whether it be to prescription drugs or street drugs, get to the point where ... they'll do whatever it takes to get their next pill," said Parks.
This may lead to the addict's victimization of other people, breaking into houses, or stealing. It can even play a factor in family situations, such as child neglect cases.
Parks said it's easy for people to blame doctors for over-prescribing prescription drugs, but that it's wrong to only blame doctors, since there was a philosophy change that took place in the late 1980s after doctors were criticized for under-treating pain.
"This public criticism that the medical community was getting caused a shift in the way that they did business, so that prescription narcotics became more and more readily available," he said.
Now there is an expectation if a person has an ailment, there is a pill they can take to fix it, coupled with the idea from kids that prescription medication is not as dangerous as street drugs.
However, Parks said on a positive note, he feels there is better community awareness of the dangers of prescription drugs today than in 2005 or 2006 - especially in schools.
"That's not to say that there aren't kids abusing prescription drugs. There definitely are," he said. "We have seen incidents where an athlete might injure his or her knee, get Vicodin prescribed and there are other students approaching that person about buying the Vicodin."
He feels that efforts made by the local Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, which was founded in 2005, has helped raise awareness of the dangers of prescription drugs. The coalition has been comprised of local medical professionals, school and health department officials, and police. Some groups that have partnered with the coalition include the prosecutor's office, Elk's Club, Delta-Schoolcraft ISD, Hannahville Indian Community, and health department.
Each year students are invited to participate in a contest through the coalition to create videos or posters to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse. The next contest is coming up in May.
"It's been something that we've been very proud of because it's been emulated in other places," said Parks. "A program similar to what we started here in Delta County was started out in a suburb of Philadelphia. We've had people contact us from as far away as Arizona ... so we're really pretty proud of what we were able to accomplish."
Parks credits those involved in the program who came from their various backgrounds out of concern with the prescription drug problem.
"You can live in communities and have a problem that everybody talks about, but no one wants to do anything," he said. "So it's really a credit to the founding members that they wanted to step up and really try to address the problem in a positive way. We felt that we needed to start building generational awareness of the problem, and so that's where our focus has always been."