Special Report: Gateway to Hell

LITTLE ROCK, AR – Prescription drug abuse, it’s an epidemic. Nationally and right here in Arkansas.

The biggest concern is highly addictive pain killers that some experts say are being prescribed at an alarming rate and with little warning.

Yes there are those who suffer from chronic pain and need them, but as FOX16’s Kevin Kelly found out despite new laws and drug monitoring programs, another serious concern is emerging right here in the Natural State.

Teenagers and young adults who are hooked on pain medication are now switching to a more dangerous street drug. You’ve probably heard of it before. It’s called heroin.

“The craving for opiates and the desire to use opiates is incredible.”

Randy Wood knows exactly what that’s like, “I had blown my knee out skiing.”

15 years ago a doctor prescribed him pain medication.

“My drug of choice was vicoprofin,” says Wood.

He followed the dosage as instructed.

But during rehab he hurt his back and once again, was prescribed pain killing medication.

“Over a period of about two years I went from taking them as they were prescribed to really abusing them,” Wood explains.

His cravings kicked in, and his tolerance went up. Simply put he needed more to get high.

“I was basically eating them like skittles,” Wood says.

His addiction so bad he developed an ulcer which had to be removed. “And when they did that they took 40 or 50 percent of my stomach with it.”

“It is very definitely an epidemic.”

Dr. Michael Mancino with UAMS is one of the top drug addiction and treatment specialists in the state.

“Are doctors prescribing this without raising any red flags?,” asks FOX16’s Kevin Kelly.

“Yes that is a contributing factor,” Dr. Mancino says.

Enough painkillers were issued nationwide to medicate every adult for an entire month. As for Arkansas it now ranks among the highest in the country when it comes to prescribing painkillers and the number of people taking them.

“Now we’re seeing the results of the adolescents progressing in their use, misuse and ultimately addiction.”

Federal and state officials quickly realized the problem and immediately took action by implementing prescription drug monitoring programs or PDMP’s.

The online tool gives those in the healthcare community direct access to a patients controlled substance history.

“So they are able to log on for their patient and make good prescribing decisions.

The program also helps identify “doctor shoppers,” people who see at least seven or more prescribers and pharmacies in a 90 day period. Since 2013 the number of patients misusing and abusing prescription drugs has dropped significantly.

“It’s been reduced about 70 percent, down to 30.”

But it’s also created another problem. Because less pills are being prescribed there are less pills on the street. And the ones that are go for as much as $60 per pill.

So those addicted to painkillers are now turning to this, heroin.

“Are we seeing that trend play out here in Arkansas? are kids, young kids going from prescription drugs to heroin because they can’t afford prescription drugs?,” asks Kevin Kelly.

“Absolutely, absolutely and it’s frightening.”

And the scary thing is, is that the heroin before was only two to three percent pure. Now we’re looking at 70 percent pure product.”

Which some fear,

Heroin itself is on the rise as far as use in Arkansas.”

could result in even more overdoses.

When paramedics arrive on the scene of an overdose, they bring this with them. It’s narcan, a lifesaving drug that reduces the high. Right now paramedics are the only ones armed with this drug, but thanks to legislation law enforcement will also be using this.”

In the coming weeks and months police officers and deputies will be trained on how to administer this non-addictive life-saving drug.

“We need that assistance from police to step in there and say hey, we recognize this as a life threat we’re capable of using this drug and we’re going to sustain this life until the paramedics get here and assist us further.”

As for Wood, he’s one of the lucky ones. He never crossed over to heroin, never overdosed and has been sober for the past 10 years. A blessing he cherishes.

Anyone struggling with drug abuse can visit these links:

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