Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Warren team tackles abuse

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Police, pharmacists and medical professionals in Warren County are teaming up for the first time in an attack on the abuse of prescription drugs.

        Piloted by the Warren County Drug Task Force's newly formed pharmaceutical diversion unit, they've formed an information network to keep an eye out for people who pass fake prescriptions and shop for doctors in the hope they might land a dose of their favorite drug of abuse.

        At a time when the illegal trade of prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, has grabbed national attention, task force commander John Burke said such an alliance is critical.

        A national study released last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 3.9 million people regularly abused prescription drugs in 1999, compared to 2.1 million who used heroin, cocaine and crack.

        “Over 30 percent of the drug problem in American has to do with pharmaceutical drugs. It's not limited to marijuana, cocaine, crack and heroin,” Mr. Burke said.

        “The problem exists in every community and law enforcement hasn't done a very good job of policing it.”

        With years of experience from doing the same job in Cincinnati and fresh out of retirement there, Detective Dennis Luken hopes to change that in Warren County.

        He joined the Warren County Drug Task Force in a recent expansion supported by nearly $200,000 in contributions from local governments and county commissioners.

        Three weeks into his new role as the county's sole agent on the new pharmaceutical squad, he is making rounds to about 60 pharmacies in the county and on the fringes to educate pharmacists about the new mission.

        Monday, Mason pharmacist Dick Yost was on his list of people to see.

        Mr. Yost has had dealings with Cincinnati's pharmaceutical diversion unit for years because of Mason's close proximity to Hamilton County, but he said he welcomed the same type of interaction in Warren County.

        Businesses like Mr. Yost's will be regular recipients of a monthly law enforcement newsletter that lists names of people who might be using pharmacies, doctors, veterinarians and others to further their drug habits. Medical professionals are being urged to call the task force if they have suspicions.

        Detective Luken said he plans to hold seminars for doctors, medical staffs and police officers so they know how to identify suspicious activity.

        So far, his legwork has developed more than a dozen investigations, and his boss expects that workload to increase as more in the medical field learn about the new squad.

        “We figured we were going to be swamped right away,” Mr. Burke said. “Until now, pharmacies in the county had no one to go to when they had a problem.”


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