Pharmacists, law enforcement discuss Indiana’s opiate crisis

Pills pill bottle prescription drugs
(WISH Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana continues to lead the nation in pharmacy robberies. At last check, Indianapolis had experienced more than 150 pharmacy robberies as of mid-October of this year, a statistic that law enforcement officials say points to a larger problem – the demand for more prescription pills on the streets.

It’s an issue I-Team 8 has covered for months. Often time, the crimes involved very similar scenarios – suspects would most often use a threatening note implying that they had a weapon and then make off with thousands of dollars worth of prescription pain medications. The demand on the black market is high, according to Tamara Watson with Indiana State Police. As a narcotics investigator, Watson says the business model of running a black-market drug operation is “hard to argue with.”

“If you can get a prescription from a doctor, it’s a co-pay. (It’s enough) for you to have enough to make a car payment, a house payment and buy groceries for the month,” she said. “One morphine pill 80mg, can go from $80 to $100 on the street so when you have a physician that is going to prescribe someone a 30-day supply of morphine, 80 mg, they take that every four to six hours a day, add up.

Watson was among more than 800 law enforcement, physicians, pharmacists or other stakeholders who take part in a two-day anti-drug symposium put on by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office.

“You are very likely to be involved in a pharmacy robbery in the state of Indiana. If you are a pharmacist, that risk is high,” said Tamara Watson with Indiana State Police. “I know that all pharmacists that I have dealt with are concerned about a repeat. Once you’ve been robbed once that individual is likely to come back and visit you again,” she added.

While pharmacy robberies weren’t the main topic discussed during a panel session Thursday morning, there were other concerns about Indiana’s heroin and opiate epidemic. Among them, there is increased concerns and complexity when it comes to physicians and pharmacists being able to strike a balance with prescribing pain medications.

Members that attended the morning session shared stories about patients who couldn’t get refills or others who said there is the potential for non-drug abusers be “red-flagged” if they receive prescriptions from more than 10 prescribers within a 60-day period. In Indiana, that automatically flags a person as a potential “person of interest.”

“A little bit of the discussion today has been the difficulty in transitioning to some of these steps that the physicians have to take,” Watson said. “The problem is if you have four to five doctors in one location and you get a different prescriber each time, that actually shows up that you’ve had more than one prescriber when in actuality you’ve gone to the same facility even though you’ve just received a prescription from more than one provider.”

When asked if that’s happening, Watson said: “There is that potential. It’s not a perfect system. (INSPECT) is an excellent tool. what are hoping happens is that the pharmacist will double check with the physician in an attempt to resolve that issue.”

Later in the day, Zoeller announced a new grant program to fund a surge in naloxone distribution, with the goal of ensuring all first responders are equipped with the life-saving treatment and trained to administer it. Naloxone – or Narcan – is an antidote often used to reverse the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose.

According to a 2015 Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) report, the number of heroin overdoses in Indiana more than doubled from 2011 to 2013. Three out of four new heroin users report having abused prescription opioids prior to using heroin, according to a statement from Zoeller’s office.

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