In Rural Counties, Pill Abuse Rampant; in Bradford, for Example, Prescription Drug Cases Outpace Street Drugs 8-1

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith recalled overhearing students at the local high school buzzing about a cocktail party.

His first thought was that they were too young to drink. But Smith quickly realized they were talking about something else: stealing their parents' pills, putting them in a cup and passing it around. A prescription drug cocktail.

Now Smith and other rural sheriffs in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia are painfully aware. They say prescription drug abuse in their counties has reached epidemic levels, endangering local teens and straining law enforcement resources.

"It's devastating in a rural community," Smith said. "We're losing a whole generation to OxyContin. It's scary."

High-powered pain pills were so readily available in nearby Palatka that Lauren Schiller, 21, said she had to move elsewhere to escape temptation.

Schiller had become addicted after being introduced to oxycodone at a party.

"I liked the way it made me feel," she said. "I kept going back for more."

In Putnam County, the dealings of the Croslin family are well-documented. Misty and Tommy Croslin and Misty's ex-husband, Ronald Cummings, have pleaded guilty to prescription drug trafficking charges. Cummings is the father of missing 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings, and Misty Croslin is believed to be the last person to see the little girl alive.

Haleigh's case has given the Putnam drug arrests a higher profile, too. But sheriffs in other counties say their problems are just as bad.

Prescription drug cases now outpace traditional street drugs 8-1 in Bradford County. The sheriff estimates about two dozen young people in his county, population 26,000, have died of overdoses or other reasons related to prescription drug abuse in the past three years, about the same as the number of people killed in traffic crashes. …