Time for Serious Rx Abuse Treatment

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Friday, May 15, 2009
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John Burke, commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement. Cmdr Burke also is the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.


A recent article in eastern Ohio’s newspaper, The Vindicator, indicated that the cost of treating addicts in the region has tripled over the past 5 years. The costs have soared from just under $500,000 to >$1.25 million in those few years.

As the article points out, some of this is good news, as the number of patients increased from 658 in 2004 to 999 in 2008. These patients encompass all types of chemical abuse and addiction, but opiate abuse (heroin and prescription drugs) became the second highest substance of abuse, bowing only to alcohol in Columbiana County, Ohio.

The county has no residential treatment facility, but says that the drug Suboxone is making outpatient or athome recovery possible in their community. Marilyn Latham, the clinical supervisor for the Family Recovery Center, says the drug has made a huge positive impact on those whose addiction has taken over their lives.

Some interesting statistics in the article indicate that almost half of the people entering treatment did so on their own volition or with the help of family or friends.
The second largest group (21%) represented those referred by the criminal justice system.

Whereas many people do not see the positive association between a person being arrested for a substance abuse crime and mandatory referral to a treatment center, law enforcement and other criminal justice folks have seen these positive results for decades. Needless to say, it does not work for everyone, and many relapse. But when a judge tells an offender that he or she can either go through accredited rehabilitation or go to jail, the choice seems obvious.

Drug courts and other programs can work by forcing people into these programs when they seem to be on a course of self-destruction. The problem is that there just are not enough of these programs nationwide to properly treat those who are addicted. This is especially true as one travels farther away from large municipalities, where money and resources become even harder to secure.

Prescription drug abuse has become arguably one of the top types of drug abuse in this nation, with opiates ranking No. 1 in this group. Benzodiazepines and stimulants also are at issue when pharmaceuticals are involved, but once again, treatment options are very limited.

I and others have said many times that the efforts against drug abuse are 3-pronged: law enforcement, prevention/ education, and rehabilitation. Without all 3 functioning, the revolving door syndrome prevails. In addition, the 3 can and do work together, although the collaborations are oftentimes less than adequate.

Many law enforcement agencies have either Drug Abuse Resistance Education or other school resource officers who provide preventive education to children. I had drug diversion investigators who worked for me in Cincinnati who volunteered to attend a drug court’s graduation of individuals they had arrested a few months earlier. These same officers and prosecutors had recommended to the court that the defendant be given a drug court option.

These efforts are commendable, but too many times law enforcement does not see the positive value of accredited treatment and rehabilitation centers, and it is time for those officers to take a second look and get on the team. Law enforcement can use all the help it can get, and if that means fewer offenders on the street when drug rehabilitation works, it is a win–win situation for all of us.



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