Efforts Increase to Get Prescription Painkillers Off Streets

Updated: 02/08/2013 11:43 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

Prescription painkillers.

They're the wonder drugs for folks suffering with chronic pain.  But they can be dangerous.

They're so popular in Minnesota, the abuse of them is being called an epidemic.

The Minnesota Department of Health tells us more than 2-thousand people have died from accidental overdoses since 2000.  And in 2011, painkiller related deaths hit an all-time record.  That's why efforts are increasing all across the metro to get pills off the streets.

That caught the attention of Eli Knowles.  In high school, friends called him the candyman.  His addiction started innocently enough, "I found that people were willing to trade prescription painkillers for my prescription ADHD medication." 

Knowles quickly developed a love affair with oxycontin and vicodin, "it was a slippery slope once I began to use prescription painkillers."

Knowles smiles when he remembers the feeling, "taking painkillers was like wrapping myself in a warm blanket of complacency."  It's an escape others are after.  Knowles calls it an epidemic, that it's taking the teenage crowd by storm.

"It starts when they're getting medicine from cabinets at home or their friends and it grows," according to Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton. 

Addictions, accidental poisonings and overdoses.  That's why every county we talked to is upping efforts to get and destroy outdated, unused prescriptions.  Sheriff Hutton says, "just sit back and think a moment about the drugs in your own home those are the medicines and prescription drugs in these bins."

Washington County just added a drop-off box in Forest Lake.  It's the third one set up in a year.  On average 28 people a week drop medicine into the bin, filling 57 barrels so far.  Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota and Carver counties have all added collection boxes.  The bins are emptied everyday and destroyed.  That's "street smart" according to Knowles, a recovering addict, "a lot of pain and confusion could've been avoided."

It's a felony in Minnesota to give someone else your prescription medication.  In fact, two people in the state have been convicted or charged with murder after shared or sold pills led to deaths.