BARTOW – The arrest of two women in Bartow on drug charges is another reminder that the illegal use of legally prescribed medications has become in some ways a bigger challenge for local law enforcement than use of drugs that have been banned outright.
On Thursday, Polk County Sheriff’s detectives arrested 46-year-old Stacey Sumner of 611 Westover St. in Lakeland and her friend, 62-year-old Lois McDermott.
Sumner was charged with one count of trafficking in the pain medication Hydrocodone, a narcotic, as well as two counts of forgery, and two counts of obtaining a prescription by fraud.
McDermott faces one count of conspiracy to traffic in Hydrocodone.
Hydrocodone is a narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain. Medical studies have indicated that Hydrocodone is a strong medication — stronger than codeine, although only about one-tenth as potent at morphine.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes on its Web site that Hydrocodone “relieves pain by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. Hydrocodone relieves cough by decreasing activity in the part of the brain that causes coughing.”
The site also cautions that “Hydrocodone may be habit-forming. Take hydrocodone exactly as directed. Do not take a larger dose, take it more often, or take it for a longer period of time than prescribed by your doctor.”
The risk is that Hydrocodone can cause side effects that include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, anxiety and abnormally sad moods.
“Some side effects can be serious,” the site cautioned.
In the Polk County case, detectives with the sheriff’s office got information that Sumner had been forging prescriptions through her job as a receptionist at her father’s dental office, Sonrise Dental Clinic in Bartow. She used her friend McDermott to get the pills from local pharmacies, detectives said.
“McDermott would pick the pills up from various pharmacies and deliver them back to Sumner, who used them to support her addiction to the pills,” noted Carrie Eleazer, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in her report on this case.
Detectives say Sumner spent more than a year writing literally hundreds of prescriptions to herself.
“Over a 15-month period, Sumner has forged 519 prescriptions for her own personal use,” Eleazer said. “She was arrested in 2002 for the same crime, and worked for her father, Dr. William Johnson, DDS, at that time as well.”
After receiving information that an employee at the dental clinic was illegally writing prescriptions for the drug, detectives got a search warrant for the dental office on Wednesday. While at the clinic, they interviewed Johnson.
According to the arrest report, Dr. Johnson told detectives that prescriptions with the serial number 1900 and after were taken without his knowledge, and that he had not written any of them. The dentist told detectives that he’s currently into the 1700 series of prescriptions.
Right now, both of the woman are in the Polk County Jail.
Prescription drug abuse has become a major concern for local counties. Orange County has already imposed a moratorium on new pain management clinics, or so-called “pill mills” where doctors write prescriptions for pain killing medications that in some cases can be highly addictive.
The abuse of prescription drugs is considered one of the nation’s fastest growing drug problems. The Center for Drug Free Living Addictions Receiving Facility in Orlando has reported that addictions to heroin have, until a few years ago, made up 47 percent of the patient base at this 40-bed inpatient detoxification stabilization facility, while pharmaceuticals – and that included all the pain pills – was at 50 percent. By October 2010, those numbers had jumped to 83 percent for pain pills, 15 percent for heroin and 2 percent for Methadone.
It’s been estimated that pill mills can bring in $25,000 a day, and these clinics are particularly prevalent in south Florida. Broward and Palm Beach counties have 200 known pill mills. Some even advertise “No wait, walk in’s welcome for chronic pain” out front.
Studies have indicated that 98 of the top 100 doctors dispensing Oxycodone nationally are in Florida, concentrated in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, and that 126 million pills of Oxycodone are dispensed through Florida pharmacies.
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