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Prescription drug abuse growing problem in Indiana

May 16, 2011

Prescription drugs are playing an increasing role in the drug-related crimes that are filling up Indiana's prisons, prison officials and prosecutors said.

While drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine receive the harshest sentences, the nation's fastest-growing drug problem is prescription drug abuse, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Jake Elder said prescription pills are found during almost every drug case he handles.

"It's almost like a secondary charge. I would say 75 to 80 percent of all cases I handle, whether it be meth or cocaine, also had some sort of" prescription drug, Elder told the News and Tribune of Jeffersonville.

In 2009, the Clark County Prosecutor's Office filed 1,868 felony cases and 446 were drug cases. Of those, 125 involved hydrocodone, 93 involved Xanax and 75 oxycodone. And more cases in the county along the Ohio River involve hydrocodone than any other drug except marijuana.

Indiana lawmakers debated sentencing reform during their recent session and one bill aimed to reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenses. That bill died after running into stiff opposition from county prosecutors.

Anne Terwilliger, the substance abuse coordinator for southern Indiana's Henryville Correctional Facility, said more than 90 percent of the minimum-security prison's inmates are drug addicts.

"I would say everyone here has struggled with addiction at some point in their life," she said.

Terwilliger said an estimated 60 of Henryville's roughly 200 inmates were in treatment for addiction. She wishes more inmates would take advantage of the program, but said inmates have to want the help.

"My philosophy is that a lot of treatment is superficial. There's something underneath," Terwilliger said.

When addicts start revealing their past, she finds that many have a family history of addiction, were sexually abused or have been unable to cope with a loss.

Henryville isn't unique in its large percentage of inmates with drug problems. Across the state Department of Correction, it's estimated that more than 90 percent have substance abuse problems.

The state Department of Correction has recently started placing more emphasis on rehabilitation programs, said Darwin Groves, administrative assistant in charge of programs at Henryville.

Prescription drugs are the most abused drugs, other than marijuana, among youth. Elder said he's heard reports of "pill parties" for juveniles who find medication in their parents' medicine cabinets and swap pills with others.

An Indiana Prevention Resource Center survey found that 3.5 percent of 12th graders and 4.3 percent of 10th graders had abused prescription medication in the past month. The same survey found 5.8 percent of 12th graders and 4.6 percent of 10th graders had abused prescription pain killers.

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