It’s no secret southeastern Kentucky, along with the majority of the United States, is plagued with drug addiction and abuse problems. In national news, the problem often takes a back seat to murders or federal government news.
However, locally, it’s an issue that is looked at on a daily basis by local law enforcement.
For Bell County, the drug of choice is typically prescription drugs and has been so for the past 10 years, according to law enforcement officials.
“Most of our drug abusers prefer prescription drugs as opposed to some more traditional stuff used here like cocaine and stuff like that,” said Middlesboro Chief of Police Jeff Sharpe.
The type of prescription drug seen most in the area “changes with the tide” and depends on availability and what drug the dealers can get.
Sharpe said in recent years pain killers and opiates have been the most preferred drug.
Xanax and Valium are high on the list, he said.
The state’s website states the number one drug found in overdose deaths is Xanax, he said.
Sharpe said drug users may have a preference, but will take anything they can find.
Recently, there has been a substantial increase in Suboxone abuse.
“Some people will tell you that drug cannot be abused and the whole point is to use it to get off your dependence on opiates… but drug users have found ways to abuse that drug and still get the high from it,” said Sharpe.
Prescription drug abuse has no age range or limit. Sharpe said his department sees the problem across all ages and genders.
“There’s a much larger percentage of middle-aged people that use it than you would think,” said Sharpe. “People tend to think drug abusers are all young people… but a lot of the addicts we find are really closer to my age.”
While prescription drugs are currently the drug of choice in Bell County, there was a time when the problem was unheard of in the area.
Sharpe said the first prescription drug they saw being abused was muscle relaxers. Over time users started discovering opiates, he said.
Sharpe said, in his personal opinion, the attraction to prescription drugs came because they were easy to get and less obvious.
“You just pop a pill,” said Sharpe. “You don’t have to light up a joint and conceal the smell of it, and you don’t have to go through the steps you take to start up cocaine and all that. It’s something you can do very easily, get a high and move on.”
Though prescription drugs are the drugs of choice, there are other drugs still prevalent in the area. Those drugs range from marijuana to methamphetamine to cocaine.
Sharpe said other drugs are just as dangerous as prescription drugs.
He also said making methamphetamine is very dangerous.
Recently in Pineville, a potential meth lab explosion resulted in the death of one man and the temporary shutdown of Pineville Community Hospital’s ER.
Sharpe said heroin is making a comeback in the state as well. The drug has not been seen much in Bell County.
“We’re prepared for it (heroin),” said Sharpe. “We’re already doing some training on it and getting ready for it if it does come here.”
According to Sharpe, alcohol abuse is another problem facing the area. He said alcohol is still one of the most abused substances out there.
“These people (those who abuse alcohol) are just as dangerous as the drug abusers,” said Sharpe. “The danger comes from them getting out in public operating motor vehicles.”
The Middlesboro police and other agencies in the area have taken a variety of actions over the past 20 or more years to help the drug problem in the area.
Sharpe said his department has been using similar strategies as those used by law enforcement agencies all over the U.S.
Sharpe said the the department does many things on the street level, including having patrol officers look for signs of drugs on each traffic stop.
“Everything we do we’re looking for signs of drug use, drug abuse or drug dealing,” said Sharpe.
One of the bigger problems, Sharpe said, is the drug addiction and what individuals will do to support the habit. He said there needs to be a focus on why individuals become addicts and allow drugs to take over their life.
“We as a country have got to start focusing on that,” said Sharpe regarding drug addiction. “We’ve got to start trying to figure out why these people want to get high.”
For those who may know an individual who is an addict or have a drug problem, Sharpe encourages them to speak up. He said it is common for people to turn a blind eye to drug addiction.
“No problem in life is ever solved by ignoring it,” said Sharpe. “Law enforcement absolutely cannot solve this problem on our own.”
Shape commends the community for much of their success when it comes to prosecuting drug dealers.
“A lot of the work we do, particularly when it comes to prosecuting drug dealers, comes from help we get from the community,” said Sharpe. “If we didn’t have that help we wouldn’t be successful at all.”
Anthony Cloud can be reached at 606-248-1010, ext. 1125 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN.