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Guardsman, civilian law enforcement officer warns of epidemic

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- There is a growing epidemic in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that could potentially touch every family that resides within its borders.

Unlawful use of prescription medication has taken Kentucky by storm and it doesn't look like it's going to ease up any time soon.

As a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard for over 20 years and a Kentucky State Trooper for a dozen, I have seen drug trends come and go. At the same time, I've observed how they affect communities throughout the Commonwealth and the military members of the KY National Guard.

In my opinion, we are looking at a crisis that far outweighs drug epidemics of the past such as crack cocaine and heroin. According to the Office of Drug Control Policy, Kentucky had the dubious distinction of being ranked the top state in the country for prescription drug abuse in 2008. In that year alone, Kentucky lost 485 people due to overdose of these killers.

Medical examiners' records for that year indicate the most common drugs abused in these cases were Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Xanax, Morphine and Fentanyl. Not only do the drugs affect the people that abuse them -- across age groups -- they also affect everyone that lives in the state by serving as causal factors for other types of crime. Addiction drives drug abusers to often violent crimes, such as burglary, robbery, driving under the influence and domestic abuse.

A common practice for attaining these medications is called "Doctor Shopping." This is the practice of going to one doctor, obtaining a prescription, and then just moving to the next doctor until the user stockpiles a large amount of pills.

The Kentucky All Schedule Reporting System (KASPER) is one tool used to combat this practice. This program allows participating doctors to check when the last prescription was filled and which physician prescribed the medication within the state.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says that nearly 7 million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs, more than the number of addicts abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, ecstasy and inhalants combined. The DEA also reports that "opioid painkillers now cause more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined."

Sadly, this new trend has already affected unit members and families of the 123d Airlift Wing. Here at home and Defense Department wide, we're seeing unfortunate instances of drug abuse involving prescribed or illegally obtained medications.
Although the Wing's urinalysis program does test for these prescription drugs, we must lead the fight against the abuse of these otherwise useful medications. We must monitor our Wingmen and address issues appropriately through the support systems available to us as National Guardsmen.

As a Kentucky State Police sergeant and a master sergeant of the Kentucky Air National Guard, I ask commanders and staff noncommissioned officers to educate themselves in order to be effective leaders at combating this epidemic in the unit and our communities.