Retired DEA agent Emmett R. Highland explains the opioid epidemic to members of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce on May 16 in McDonough.
McDONOUGH — The opioid epidemic is as close as your own medicine cabinet. And in 2017, it killed more people nationwide than there are seats in SunTrust Park.
At the May 17 luncheon of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Emmett R. Highland, a retired agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency, told the audience the biggest contributor to the problem is not the stereotypical scraggy addict shooting up in an urban alley, but the real estate agent showing your home, the friend of a friend at a dinner party or your own children looking to experiment with prescription opioids.
“I’m sure they’re very nice people,” he said, “but they will rob you blind. They will go in your medicine cabinet and take what you have … or maybe they’ll leave you one or two, confuse you.”
Highland said people get addicted to opioids after sports injuries, car accidents or dental visits. Now, doctors are recommending temporary larger doses of ibuprofein rather than opioid painkillers in many cases.
“The purpose of legitimate chronic pain management is not to live pain free, (but is to) reduce pain (and) improve function,” he said.
Beyond the medicine cabinet, “pill mills” or pain clinics are the source of millions of doses that are resold, pill by pill, on the street.
Here’s the scam: One “sponsor” will enlist two or three others to go into a pill mill or a legitimate doctor’s office, describe symptoms, get a prescription for opioids or other controlled substances, then either give the “sponsor” the prescriptions or else get them filled and then hand over the pills. In exchange, the “sponsor” will give his accomplices, who are usually addicts themselves, a few pills or a few hundred dollars. The “sponsor” returns daily with new accomplices.
Since the state of Georgia enacted tougher prescription-tracking laws a few years ago, far fewer pills go astray. When one doctor writes 10 times more prescriptions for opioids than do all the other doctors in the same practice combined, Highland said, that’s usually a clue.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid about 80 to 100 times as potent as morphine. Sometimes dealers mix it with heroin or pass it off as heroin, which leads to deadly overdoses.
“Y’all, they’re putting it in everything,” he said. “Weed, meth, heroin, coke — they’re putting fentanyl in all these other drugs. This is what we’re trying to stress. You don’t know what you’re putting in your body.”
Emphasize to friends and family that they cannot truly know what’s in a pill they get from a friend or buy from a dealer or website, Highland said. They may think they’re buying a clean pharmaceutical pill but chances are more likely that it’s a fake pill laced with Fentanyl or, worse, carfentanyl, which is a potent elephant tranquilizer. Even trace amounts of carfentanyl can kill within minutes.
You also can bring unused controlled substances to local police departments, sheriff’s offices or drug dropboxex. Pharmacists also offer drug-disposal kits.