WXTX Special Report: Prescription Addiction

WXTX Special Report: Prescription Addiction

COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) - It often starts with a doctor's prescription for a painkiller.  But for many, it becomes a wrong turn to self-destruction.

The deadly surge of prescription drug abuse has become a "national epidemic" according to the CDC.

People have turned in a record number of those pills to Columbus authorities, while Alabama has one of the nation's highest rates of painkiller use.

Recent surveys show 1 in 5 teens have tried Vicodin, while 1 in 10 have taken Adderall for non-medical purposes. Legal pills like that killing more people than heroin and cocaine combined.

In this special report, we meet a local man who got obsessed with painkillers who shares his story of spiritual redemption. We'll also uncover what else is being done about "prescription addiction."

"A lot of these drugs are OxyContin, oxycodone," said Captain Gail Green with Phenix City Police.

"Even for a first time user, it can be lethal," said Russell County Coroner Arthur Sumbry Jr.

Enter David Williams, who innocently took those powerful drugs given to him by a doctor for pain.

"I started using prescription pills following a motorcycle accident that I got into in 2006," Williams said.

At 23 years old, the Columbus man slowly got addicted, eventually buying the meds on the street.

"It would take more and more pills," Williams said. "I was feeding a monster. The pills weren't even enough. I moved on to intravenously using heroin. It began to destroy my life."

He ended up in jail and on WTVM, after we reported his arrest in a roundup of 23 people accused of doing or selling drugs in Harris County three years ago.

"There's a network of (drug) users in Columbus that pool their resources together," Williams said. "They go to these different doctors to get pills."

"They've either stolen a pad or something from the doctor's office," Captain Green said.

Addicts or drug dealers often use pill mills - clinics or doctors that illegitimately prescribe powerful narcotics but not for legitimate medical reasons.

Georgia cracked down on that by passing legislation in 2013, requiring pain clinics to be licensed by the state medical board.

"If the prescription's forged, then we'll go ahead and make the arrest on that particular crime," Captain Green said.

When responding to a drug-related death, Russell County's coroner also says he makes some unusual finds.

"Every now and then, we'll run across one where they weren't prescribed, someone else's name was on there," Sumbry said.

In the meantime, prescription pill-related overdoses have doubled in Lee County from last year, according to the coroner there, who says the deaths are often accidental.

To catch it before it's too late, law enforcement all over the nation host Drug Take Back events, where people can anonymously drop off their expired or unwanted medications. Just a month ago, Muscogee County shattered previous records by collecting 2,100 pounds of drugs.

"The purpose of it is so they don't get into the wrong hands, because you do have people that will take these drugs and sell them, they'll abuse them," Captain Green said.

Phenix City police say another goal of these Drug Take Backs is to properly destroy the pills, which is done by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Mixing some of those meds not turned in - or maybe too much morphine - can lead to deadly drug overdoses, which Sumbry sees just about every month.

"A lot of them are caused by hydrocodone, a lot of people get hooked on the painkillers," Sumbry said.

To prevent those deaths, Russell County's coroner says look out for some red flags - perhaps somebody's a lot more depressed then normal or goes off a lot on their own.

"I had friends overdose and die," Williams said.

He too almost died from his addiction to pain meds, then heroin - seen as more dangerous, but federal government officials say prescription painkillers kill 16,000 people each year, more than heroin and cocaine combined.

Williams survived, but remembers losing his business, his house, everything.

"I knew there was nothing of this world that could clean up the mess that I had made, and made the decision to truly give my heart to the Lord," Williams said.

Clean for two years now, Williams says he's free, telling us he needed faith in Jesus Christ to beat the habit. Now, he ministers to drug addicts in the Chattahoochee Valley, sharing his spiritually uplifting story with the hopeless.

And it's never too early, as local coroners talk to elementary kids about the dangers.

"So in the schools, we try to promote that, tell the children not to share your meds," Sumbry said.

To keep them away from small children or anyone else, police say be responsible for prescriptions in your name.

"I recommend they use a lock box to lock them (prescription meds) up or a safe," Captain Green said.

Williams has a warning for those when you're prescribed any drugs, or maybe experimenting.

"Take these drugs as prescribed by a doctor," Williams said. "They're highly, highly addictive."

David Williams went through the year-long "Teen Challenge" drug recovery program.

To combat prescription drug abuse, police work with local pharmacies, plus President Obama announced new steps, just last week, to expand training of doctors who prescribe opiates.

Join the conversation on social – use #PrescriptionAddiction.

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