Officials seek to curb drug abuse
By ROXANA HEGEMAN
WICHITA -- The top federal prosecutor in Kansas urged residents Monday to join the fight against prescription drug abuse, saying more people in the United States now die from drug overdoses than from auto accidents each year.
At the news conference to kick off "The Medicine Abuse Project," U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom cited statistics showing every 19 minutes one person dies from a drug overdose -- with the death toll from prescription painkillers tripling in the past decade. Emergency room visits involving prescription drug abuse have doubled from 2004 to 2010.
"It is a concern that snuck up on law enforcement," Grissom said.
Federal officials are most worried about teenagers and designed the project to encourage parents to talk to teens about the dangers of prescription drugs. Each day, 2,500 teens nationwide try a prescription drug for the first time to get high, he said.
The U.S. attorney's office cited a case this year in which a heroin trafficking organization sold to users in Johnson, Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Franklin counties. Prosecutors said the group catered to teenagers and young adults who became hooked on oxycodone and then graduated to heroin.
Grissom also cited the convictions two years ago of Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife for a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths. The government contended their Haysville clinic was little more than a "pill mill" used to unlawfully prescribe controlled substances to addicted patients. The doctor is serving a 30-year sentence, and his wife is serving 33 years in federal prison.
Grissom also asked Kansans to participate Saturday in the National Drug Take Back Day. Law enforcement agencies nationwide will be accepting unused prescription drugs for safe disposal. Nearly 8,800 pounds of drugs were collected in Kansas during a Drug Take Back Day earlier this year, Grissom said.