Abuse of pills, regional blood lab top concerns
When legislators convene in Raleigh this month, there are two pressing concerns for this region that must be addressed.
One is the need for a blood alcohol testing facility in Western North Carolina.
It’s been estimated that nearly half of the driving while impaired cases brought to court in the region are dismissed because the the lab analyst who performed the test isn’t available to testify.
Courts have ruled that video testimony is invalid, and a five-hour, one-way trip to Western North Carolina makes it difficult to ensure that a State Bureau of Investigation lab analyst can be available for trials, especially when trial dates are set and attorneys are routinely allowed to postpone them.
Those who carefully follow the driving while impaired cases are convinced that having a lab in the region where blood alcohol content can be tested will put the issue to rest.
That leads into the second pressing legislative need for our region.
Any more, impaired drivers are just as likely to be unsafe because of prescription drug abuse as they are alcohol. Local law enforcement officers say the abuse of narcotic drugs is the No. 1 problem they face, and has become the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the U.S.
For decades, vehicle crashes topped the list, but now it is abuse of pills. Stop and think about that statistic for a minute.
Here are a few other statistics included in a power point presentation put together by Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed that are attention grabbers.
• One in three teens have close friends who use pills to get high at school.
• Prescription drug abuse in Haywood far exceeds the state and national averages. In Haywood County, one out of four unattended deaths are from prescription drugs.
• The Centers for Disease Control states that prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels.
• 90 percent of the hydrocodone in the world is used in the U.S., and of that, 90 percent comes from Florida where portable “pain clinics” are little more than legal drug dispensaries.
• Prescription drugs have the same addictive qualities as cocaine and heroin.
• More children are using pills than marijuana as a gateway drug.
• Parents and grandparents are the biggest drug dealers around because the bathroom medicine cabinet is how most abusers get their pills.
State law enforcement officers are asking legislators to take two steps to help combat this problem. The first is to require medical practitioners who can prescribe drugs to use the to-notch controlled substance reporting system that has already been established in the state. The problem now is that physicians and others are only “asked” to use it, something that only 4 percent bother to do.
The law enforcement community is also asking for access to prescription data in “real time,” just as they have instant access to an individual’s previous driving and criminal records. That request is one where privacy issues have been raised, which means it might not be the slam-dunk the other two issues should be.
Encourage area legislators to be relentless on this issue, and to learn more, attend one of the future presentations made by Chief Hollingsed, or better yet, work with him to bring the message to groups you are involved with.