10th Judicial Drug Force Director Mike Hall told members of the Rotary Club of Cleveland, “I have no problem taking some scumbag to jail — somebody that doesn’t want to play by the rules — somebody we’ve taken to jail over and over again — somebody who defies any kind of authority or civil action — but it’s really tough when you have an engineer sitting in your office and they’ve forged 15 or 20 prescriptions and those are 15 to 20 felonies.”
He said Tuesday during the club’s weekly noon lunch meeting at the Mountain View Inn that well over 100 million prescriptions were written for Tennesseans last year.
“For every person in Tennessee, they are prescribed 13 medications per month,” Hall said. “It is a $13 billion a year problem.”
He said prescription drug abuse begins innocently enough when someone goes to the doctor for knee or back pain.
“And then they realize they have other problems, emotional problems. Problems they can’t deal with,” he said. “We take those pills and it helps our knee problem, but it also makes us feel better emotionally.”
When the pain returns, take another pill.
When the pain returns again, take another pill.
And when that one wears down, take another pill and continue taking another pill until the doctor cautions the person against taking too many pills and quits writing prescriptions.
“That’s like taking the candy away from the baby,” Hall said.
He said OxyContin is a synthetic form of heroin that sells on the street for a dollar a milligram.
He said when someone overdoses on a drug, it is not necessarily from the part that produces the high, but from the acetaminophen that shuts down the liver.
Hall said methadone is the No. 1 killer in America.
“The number one killer in America is methadone because it doesn’t keep you high,” he said. “It gets you high and then you feel like you have to take another one. Your methadone levels are pretty high. Then they get their levels up again and they take another pill.”
He said drug abuse can be generally considered as a crime against the individual user, but methamphetamine abuse is a crime against the whole community.
“The meth problem affects everybody, not just the individual who uses it,” he said.
Meth contaminates water, and landlords run the risk of tenants setting up meth labs in their rental property. Contaminated rental property must be quarantined until the mess is cleaned up — at the property owner’s expense.
“Those are tough to recover from because a lot of times insurance won’t pay for it,” Hall said.
According to a June 2009 posting on the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation website, “... clandestine meth labs are encountered on various types of properties ranging from single-family homes, rental properties, hotel and motel rooms, recreational vehicles, to automobiles. As a consequence of this illegal drug-manufacturing process, (these labs) leave behind potentially hazardous residual contamination that pose a threat to human health and render a property ‘Unsafe for Human Use.’ Residual contamination can be found absorbed onto surfaces, and permeated into walls, carpets, drapes, bedding, furniture, appliances, clothing, toys, etc.”
But, the new way of making meth is easier and Hall said his agents are seeing manufacturers who are 18 or 19 years old.
He said McMinn County has become the meth hub in Southeast Tennessee. In the past five years, there have been approximately 9,000 meth labs worked in the state. Of those, 2,000 were in the 10th Judicial District encompassing Bradley, McMinn, Polk and Monroe counties.
“In Athens, our pharmacists do sell about 600 boxes of pseudoephedrine a week. Of those pseudo pills, 87 percent are for the purpose of making methamphetamine,” he said. “We indict about 300 individuals about every four or five months for the promotion and manufacture of methamphetamine across the state. But that’s not the problem. The problem is prescription pills.”
He said there is a 6 percent recovery rate among meth addicts. A survey showed 90 percent of that 6 percent said, “The only way they got off meth was through a faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ.”