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There has been much focus recently on the issue and dangers of prescription drug abuse. Local law enforcement believes that the recent uptick in thefts and burglaries in the area is because people are looking for ways to pay for their prescription drug habits. Police are on the front lines of the problems associated with abuse. They first come into contact with the abusers, usually after an arrest is made or perhaps following a traffic accident or traffic stop.

The sheriff’s office says its narcotics division is inundated with prescription drug abuse cases. Often these burglaries, both in homes and cars, are where prescription drugs have either been the target (as the burglar is looking for the medication) or to pay for the pills (by snatching merchandise to trade or pawn in order to buy the drugs).

Because prescription drugs are prescribed by a medical professional, they appear safer than illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Also, these addictive prescription pills are more accessible than illegal drugs. They are easier to obtain in many cases.

“I think the perception with a good portion of the opiate users is that it’s a legal drug prescribed by doctors, so it can’t be as bad,” Charles County sheriff’s Capt. Ray Aportadera said in an Independent story last month. The discussion of prescription drug abuse arose at the sheriff’s quarterly meeting with his Citizens Advisory Committee.

Prescription drug abuse is becoming a major problem in communities all over the country.

As with any other addiction, there is no simple or cure-all solution. The sheriff’s office recognizes it, and the county commissioners have asked for more information on the growing problem.

At last week’s meeting, the commissioners decided to move forward to create a community dialogue on the issue in much the same way they are doing with their Vision 2020 plan to address poverty issues in the county.

The best thing for the community is to get out in front of the problem. Obviously everyone has a stake in correcting it, be it the police or the prosecutors who will see the arrests and charges wend their way through the court system. Then there are the families confronting loved ones with addictions and the professionals who help the addicted beat their habits. If the community is going to tackle this problem, it can’t be just the effort of law enforcement. It will mean bringing together members of the sheriff’s office, Maryland State Police, the state’s attorney’s office, county health departments, pharmacies, counselors, parents and other concerned citizens to move the community discussion in the right direction.

We might never be able to fully snuff out drug abuse, but awareness and evolving approaches to addressing the issue must start the process.

This is where we can grab the problem at the roots, rip it out and, hopefully, eventually scorch the soil.