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Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 9:58am

State's Prescription Drug Abuse 'Epidemic'

The problem of prescription drug abuse and illegal dispensing of drugs is exploding in Georgia. On Wednesday, there was a call to action for the medical community and law enforcement. Officials on the state and federal level gathered in Atlanta for a summit to brainstorm ways to attack the issue.

What’s being called an “epidemic” problem involves people with a prescription drug addiction, and those feeding them the supply.

The U.S Attorney’s office in Atlanta says six times the number of people died of prescription drug abuse in Georgia last year, than from all other illegal drugs combined.

Georgia’s the only Southeastern state without a prescription drug monitoring program -- Florida just added theirs last year. And Dr. Barry Straus with the North Georgia Pain Clinic says that has sent a flood of illegal clinics and operators here:

“Much of the problem is the physicians who don’t really know how to treat chronic pain but are viewing this as a quick buck and an easy way to get rich and prescribe out medicines—essentially being a legal drug dealer.”

Federal and state enforcement officials say Georgia needs a prescription drug monitoring program to help attack the problem. Georgia lawmakers are currently looking at legislation to set-up an electronic prescription tracking system.

Kris Sperry, chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, says just the discussion at the state Capitol is a first good step.

“If the legislators truly can see with their own eyes how prevalent this is and how much of a problem, and how many people are dying from this, then the ability to change what needs to be changed in subsequent years will be there.”