Special Report: Prescription Drug Abuse Part III
Thieves are breaking into medicine cabinets and even committing medicaid fraud to sell pain pills to dealers on the streets of Western North Carolina.
"45 in one bottle, 45 in another, but the last month they cheated him so I always count em."
That is a transcription of an undercover Waynesville officer talking with a prescription pill dealer getting ready to sell him pills.
"You've got percocet, vicodin, fentanyl patches," said Detective Tyler Trantham with Waynesville police department.
Detective Trantham has worked hundreds of drug cases but in recent years has focused his energies on trying to knock down the illegal prescription pill epidemic around Waynesville.
"They're being handed out on the street like candy," said Trantham.
In 2010 and 2011 Trantham said prescription dealers would take marathon drives down to Florida to stock up at pill mills and return here to the mountains with large quantities of prescription pills to sell, said Trantham. 200,300, 400 sometimes a thousand pills.
39-year-old Jerry Cooper from Florida came to Waynesville to set up his pill operation at a local hotel.
"He said this was a huge community and market area for him," said Trantham. "He knew he could come here and make money."
"Florida has since cracked down on their pill mill epidemic, but drugs in the mountains remain in ready supply," said Trantham. The detective said he knows patients locally regularly commit Medicaid fraud. Trantham said using their $3 or $4 co-pay to get prescriptions filled and illegally sell the pills to dealers.
"They turn around and they're making 5,6,7 maybe a thousand dollars off of it, they're supplementing their income on that one prescription that they have," said Trantham.
The detective showed New 13 more than ten mug shots of men and women arrested around Waynesville for illegally selling prescription pills since 2010. But the case involving mom Heather Lacey ended with the death of her 3-year-old daughter Adriana.
"We received a 911 call early in the morning," said Bill Hollingsed, Waynesvilles police chief. "There were numerous people in the house who were in different states of inebriation. The little girl was non-responsive on the floor."
Adriana died from an overdose.
"It was revealed the mother had been using opiate drugs as a means to put the little girl to sleep so she could party with her friends," said Chief Hollingsed.
Lacey pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter for her daughter's death. She served 18 months in jail.
Chief Hollingsed keeps a photo of Adrianna on his desk. Everyone on the force in Waynesville seems to remember the case.
"There's a picture I have of her with angel wings and that's the picture I like to remember, not the autopsy pictures", said Hollingsed.
"We've become very passionate to try and educate the public, to educate the community to try to stop prescription drug abuse and addiction that occurs from overuse of these drugs," said Hollinsed.
North Carolina has a prescription reporting system where doctors can see if patients are pill shopping. But Chief Hollingsed said just one third of doctors are registered.
Unfortunately, they say the numbers are closer to 4% or 5% of doctors and prescribers that actually use that database on a regular basis.
"It's available but its not being utilized," said Detective Trantham. "It's not mandatory for them to."
The chief says there's no question more must be done by North Carolina Legislators.
"When you see victim after victim, and talk to family members," said Chief Hollingsed. "You see children involved and addicts giving birth to babies that are addicted to opiates, you just can't come into work and not try to make a difference."