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Prescriptions remain addiction risk

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

In many households, the potential for major drug addiction is within easy reach. Prescription drugs can get into the wrong hands, and the results can be tragic. 

"Every home has the potential to be in the drug-dealing business," Paducah police Detective John Tolliver said. "People keep their prescriptions in the same places, like a night stand or a medicine cabinet. Kids, visitors, friends - they all know where to look already. The number of people going into grandma's medicine cabinet to get high is astounding."

Tolliver recently celebrated a one-year anniversary as the Paducah Police Department's prescription drug diversion investigator. The position was created in early 2013 after the state and region noticed an increase in overdose deaths and prescription pill addictions. At that time, Kentucky was in the top 10 states nationally for prescription pill deaths. Prescription pills were the third most commonly abused item, behind marijuana and alcohol, Tolliver said.

For the past year, Tolliver has been on the streets to combat the problem head-on. Last year, he opened 145 cases and arrested 40 people on multiple charges.

Tolliver had experience with working prescription drug issues in the department's drug unit and had been working script cases almost exclusively before taking the new position last year. Now he spends his days - and sometimes nights, lunch hours and weekends - trying to curb one of the city's biggest drug problems.

"I spend every minute working," Tolliver said. "I could pull 12-hour days and still have things to do. There's no shortage of issues to tackle."

Tolliver's goals are three-fold: prevention, education and enforcement. If he does the first two, he says, the need for the third will be lessened. So he preaches prescription drug safety to just about anyone who will listen, from the elderly to students to parents and teachers.

Part of the prevention process was setting up a network with local pharmacies. If a doctor's prescription pad is stolen, or if a known "pill head" is searching for his next fix, one call or fax notifies all of the pharmacies. The prompt information helps the department tackle potential problems proactively.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sponsors two prescription drug take-back events a year, where locals can drop off unused medications to be disposed of properly. This year, the spring event will be held on April 26 at Kentucky Oaks Mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tolliver will be touting that event around town for the next few weeks as he makes his rounds. 

"It's a passion project, because not everyone who is hooked on drugs started out with that intent," Tolliver said.

"Most of them were hurting and took something, and then they couldn't stop. Then they steal whatever or sell whatever they can. I want people to know who I am, because if they know who to call, it's easier for me to get information. Some of that information may not pan out, but some of it could save a life."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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