OWINGSVILLE, KY -- Drug Enforcement Officials in Kentucky are seeing an alarming increase in overdose deaths in rural areas of Kentucky involving pain killers purchased out of state, reports The Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.
In tiny Bath County, nine people have died since August from overdoses of powerful pain pills that were prescribed by Florida doctors, including a mother and son who died just five months apart.
"They were all that I had. I tried to watch them as close as I could," said Floyd Chapman, referring to his mother, Barbara Robertson, dead at 53, and his brother, James Chapman, who died at age 35.
Floyd Chapman said he attempted to dissuade the pair from joining thousands of Kentuckians who travel in cars, vans and airplanes to South Florida's pain clinics. Once there, people get monthly prescriptions for hundreds of painkillers like oxycodone. Increasing numbers of Kentuckians are dying as a result.
Drug policy officials in Florida and Kentucky have not tracked the number of overdose deaths along the Interstate 75 pill pipeline. But coroners, physicians and law enforcement officers who are starting to tally the numbers say they are alarmed.
"It's epidemic. I don't know what the answer is. But it's got to stop," said Robert J. Powell, Bath County's coroner.
A combination of factors has led to the much-travelled Kentucky-Florida pipeline. Kentucky and 37 other states electronically monitor the number of narcotics prescriptions a person obtains from physicians. The Sunshine State has no such system. That has led to a proliferation of storefront medical clinics in Florida whose parking lots are filled with cars from Appalachian states and where doctors prescribe and dispense the often-abused drugs for cash.
A Herald-Leader survey of coroners in just three Kentucky counties — Montgomery, Rowan and Floyd — found that 14 people had overdosed on pain pills they obtained from Florida physicians in 2008.
Powell said that, in the past, he investigated about one fatal drug overdose a year in Bath County, where the population is just more than 11,000. Recently, he's seen about one a month.
Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control, said he is surprised at how quickly the problem has grown.
"I never dreamed that it would be as big as it turned out to be," said Ingram, who said the problem has intensified in the last eight months. "We are hearing of thousands of Kentuckians going to Florida to get prescriptions and ... people going in droves to pharmacies in states along I-75 to get the prescriptions filled," said Ingram to The Lexington Herald Leader.
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