Prescription drugs a prescription for death in Clark County - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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Prescription drugs a prescription for death in Clark County

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem we face in Nevada according to the DEA.

"We are four percent of the world's population the United States, yet we consume 40 percent of the world's pharmaceutical drugs," said Paul Rosario, DEA Special Agent In Charge in the Las Vegas district office. 

Prescription drugs are killing Las Vegas.  A look at the numbers from the Clark County Coroner's office over the last five years reveals a total of 1,611 deaths from prescription drug overdoses. 

"That is more than methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine combined," said Rosario. 

Last year in Clark County, 190 were killed by overdoses of meth, cocaine, or heroin; 178 were killed in car accidents.

Rosario's office has an eight-man task force, regulatory and undercover, to specifically attack the spread of prescription drug abuse in Nevada.

Rosario says the root of this killer is often a professional. "Many times, many times it's a doctor or a pharmacist," he said.

Doctors and pharmacists join together to form what are referred to as "pill mills."

"If a doctor has a relationship with a pharmacy or knows that there's a pharmacy out there [which] was less compliant with the state regulations, they may have developed a relationship and both of them benefit from it," says Rosario.

87-year-old Dr. Henri Wetsellar was arrested last September, accused of prescribing oxycodone and other drugs out of his Las Vegas office to patients who had no medical need in exchange for cash.  According to the U.S. District Court indictment, Wetsellar then directed the patients to Lam's Pharmacy on Charleston Blvd. where pharmacist Jason Smith would fill the prescriptions.

Earlier this month, the DEA slapped Lam's with the largest fine on a non-chain pharmacy in United States history. The owners will pay $1 million and will be forced to sell the business.

Wetsellar and Smith are awaiting criminal trials in July.

Rosario emphasizes the incentives pharmacists can get in these schemes.

"We have known pharmacies which give bonuses to pharmacists because of the amount of prescription drugs that they are filling."

But what about the patients themselves that are shopping for pharmaceuticals?

Dr. David Moon has operated Accelerated Rehabilitation and Pain Center for almost 15 years in Las Vegas.  His practice sees upwards of 100 patients a day and as a pain management specialist he encounters plenty of those known as "doctor shoppers." 

"You just wouldn't believe the people you would never think are doctor shopping that would never ever doctor shop -- we get those every month or so.  A little old lady senior citizen has figured out these drugs are worth a tremendous amount of money on the street and she'll start doctor shopping."

Pharmacy-bought opiates cost anywhere from one to two dollars a pill; on the street some are worth $20 apiece.

To curb doctor shopping, Moon and any other doctor registered with the DEA has access to Nevada's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to track patients.

"We can see exactly the prescriptions people have been gotten over the last six months, year, two years depending on how far back you want to look."

Moon says he goes no longer than three visits for each patient between checking the database.

The DEA's mandate on prescription drugs is crystal clear.

"We go after these doctors and these pharmacists, we do buys into them, we develop cases against them," said Rosario.

"If there's a doctor involved with a pill mill, if there's a pharmacist in corroboration with one of these doctors, we will find them and we will eventually investigate them."

At home, both Moon and Rosario stress not being naive -- to know prescriptions inside your home right now are dangerous.

40 percent of all drugs prescribed outside of a hospital - 200 million pounds - go unused.

"They're sitting in medicine cabinets, therefore it opens the opportunity for abuse," according to Rosario. 

"Once people become addicted to oxycodone and they cannot afford that habit anymore, they switch to heroin."

If you are addicted to pain medication there is a treatment using Suboxone that Moon says has been proven effective.

If you have prescription drugs not in use, you're encouraged to drop them off at any Metro police substation to be disposed of.

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