Addicts take pains to obtain prescription drugs

People have purposely injured themselves or faked thefts to get pain medications.

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WALLA WALLA - A Walla Walla woman reported Nov. 27 that she was attacked by an unknown assailant while at work at the Red Monkey Lounge.

During an interview at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, the woman admitted to police she had beat herself up in an attempt to get prescription drugs.

"She was willing to injure herself in an effort to seek out drugs," said Sgt. Chris Buttice of the Walla Walla Police Department, adding that the case, though rare, is not isolated.

Thursday morning, police received a report that a man had sustained third-degree burns to his hand trying to put out a fire that destroyed his bottle of prescription drugs. Buttice said details of the case, such as the fire only destroying a window curtain and the bottle of drugs, raised concerns.

Two years ago a woman slammed her hand in a car door repeatedly. Her boyfriend filmed the incident, Buttice said, but police didn't have enough evidence to pursue formal charges.

"It's a rarity that they're going to that extent," Buttice said. "It's not a rarity that they're trying to obtain the pills. If they're true addicts, they don't care what the consequences are."

Buttice said the most common ploy is to report prescription medication stolen.

"They'll usually call it in just after they have it filled," Buttice said, adding addicts will damage car doors or fake a home invasion. "It's always a full bottle of pills that's missing."

The fake reports have been frequent enough that Buttice began tracking them separately.

"Since I've started keeping track in August, there are 12 cases reported," Buttice said.

Two of the 12 have been sent to the prosecutor's office, while Buttice suspects a majority of the rest are fraudulent reports.

"I would say prescription drug (addiction) is every bit as big, if not bigger, than meth and marijuana," Buttice said. "There's no division on socioeconomic status at all."

The problem is illustrated by high-profile prescription drug addicts, including Rush Limbaugh, Brittney Spears and the late Michael Jackson.

The problem is made worse, Buttice says, by people who are willing to "divert" prescription drugs for a profit, including Jackson's personal doctor, Conrad Murray, who was recently sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the singer's death in 2009.

Walla Walla police arrested an elderly woman in hospice care in 2010 following a long-term investigation of prescription drug diversion.

"Ultimately we were able to do an undercover buy," Buttice said, adding the woman was earning "enough to support a couple of family members."

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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