PITTSBURG — Law enforcement and city officials agree that the opioid crisis has not made it to Crawford County yet, but they are preparing for it as it sweeps across the nation.
A county-by-county study conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed opioid prescriptions in Crawford County decreased between 2010 and 2015 — the last year for which figures were available — but Crawford County was still in the highest quartile of opioid prescriptions.
Even being in the highest quartile for prescriptions, Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall said he doesn’t believe the city is seeing the levels of abuse that many areas are seeing under the epidemic — but the crisis is headed this way.
“Knowing what we know about the community and the national trend, we know it is heading this way,” Hall said. “It may not ever come here, but we want to be ahead of it if it does.”
At least 17 states in the nation have enacted rules to curb opioid prescriptions and use, and some like New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware and Arizona — among others — have passed laws limiting the duration of opioid prescriptions to five or seven days. Others still have passed dosage limits.
On July 1, Kansas HB 2217 went to effect, approving the use of opioid antagonists by first responders and other personnel. Opioid antagonists block the effects of opioid-based drugs to help a person who has overdosed.
While the state does not currently have laws limiting prescriptions, Hall said he is confident in community health professionals.
“We have a really great hospital here,” Hall said. “They are knowledgeable about the situation and I trust they are mindful of the epidemic in parts of the country.”
Still, prescription drug addiction and abuse — of opioids and other drugs — does happen. According to the CDC study, The northwest, southwest and southeast corners of Kansas were the most opioid saturated in 2015.
Detective Adan Nance is a criminal investigator in the Pittsburg Police Department’s narcotics division. He’s worked for PPD eight years, and says he hasn’t noticed a rise in prescription drugs.
“It seems to be about the same since I started eight years ago,” Nance said. “But it is fairly common.”
Nance said most arrests for prescription drugs come from investigations into the use of other narcotics. PPD most often finds illegal prescription drugs when marijuana, methamphetamine or other illegal drugs are located.
Tracking the illegal use of prescription drugs on their own can be difficult, Nance said, because of where they come from.
“It’s harder to specifically target prescription drugs because people can go to the doctor and get them,” he said. “That makes it harder for law enforcement to investigate or target people using prescriptions.”
Not every person who is prescribed a medication is abusing it, so where does the illegal use of prescription drugs start? While illegal use is not easily narrowed to one demographic, Nance said it starts with younger generations.
“We see it with college, high school and even middle school children; experimenting with the drugs,” he said. “A parent may have had an injury and didn’t use all the medication, so now it is just sitting in the medicine cabinet. There’s easy access so it starts young because children may have heard it’s cool.”
The easiest way to combat children’s access to prescription drugs is to dispose of them properly. PPD hosts drug “take back” days allowing folks to bring in and dispose of prescription medications that are no longer needed. PPD also has a tip line, and Nance encourages any parents, school personnel or community members to utilize it.
“Parents may hear of something going on at a child’s school, but they don’t report it or mention it to us a few days later at a gas station,” Nance said. “It’s hard to investigate after so much time has passed. We want people to feel comfortable calling us anytime, so if people see something, we want them to say something.”
The narcotics division, in which Nance works, was created through a public safety sales tax approved by Pittsburg voters. The tax also allowed for the hiring of a special drug prosecutor to work with in Crawford County Attorney’s Office.
After the creation of the narcotics division, County Attorney Michael Gayoso, Jr. was being inundated with drug cases from Pittsburg, so the special drug prosecutor was put in place to focus on those cases and speed up the process.
Hall said the drug prosecutor has been a success, and city efforts like these are focused on prevention of prescription drug abuse.
“All our measures are done in the mindset of ‘how do we best protect our citizens,’” Hall said. “Not how do we drag them off the streets once they’ve got them. So as we prepare for this possibility, we are looking at the best ways to educate and protect our citizens.”
Crawford County Sheriff Dan Peak agreed with Nance, saying he has not seen a significant increase, and the nature of prescription drugs make them difficult to track.
“The easy access to these drugs make it hard to regulate them once they leave the pharmacy,” he said. “A half-used bottle of oxycontin may sit in someone’s medicine cabinet for a year or more after it was prescribed. That could lead to theft of that medication which might not ever be reported. It opens the door for potential misuse.”
He also said most sheriff’s office arrests in the county come as a result of separate investigations.
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.