By ASHA MAS
KENNESAW, GA— Tiffany McCoy* looks like your average college student. One more book in her Jansport book bag could topple over her 5-foot-8-inch 115-pound frame. Her long brown hair is loosely tied in an up do and her readers sit weightlessly on her nose protecting her dark brown eyes. She talks confidently about her last semesters as a senior at Kennesaw State University and is ambitious about her plans after graduation. By all outward appearances, Tiffany is your average college student, but nothing about the last three years in Tiffany’s life has been average.
She talks candidly about the September weekend in 2008, when she met Jason* at Bullfrogs, a local bar in Kennesaw, while she was out celebrating her birthday weekend. She said there was an instant attraction. Soon after the initial meeting, an intense relationship began and shortly after that, so did the addiction to prescription drugs.
“At first it started out with Adderall,” Mccoy said. “Jason told me how easy it was for him to score some. Next, he was getting me Oxycodone. He was getting everything and at one point he was like ‘Do you want Adipex?’” She said while laughing and pointing at her tiny frame.
Adipex, also known as Phentermine is a closely monitored diet pill used to speed weight loss in people who are severely overweight, is available by prescription only.
“For eight months, I was a total mess, completely out of control.” she said. “ One day, my sister dropped by my apartment… and she said I looked ‘like death’. I went first to the hospital and about three days later I was being admitted to Ridgeview Institute. It all seemed like it happened so fast. It wasn’t like what you see on television.”
According to McCoy, Jason is currently being held in Cobb County Jail and is awaiting trial on separate drug charges. McCoy said she has not seen him since 2009.
McCoy’s story is alarming, however it is not uncommon. In recent years, Kennesaw has seen a rapid increase in the number of “pill mills” that are popping up around the city disguised as pain clinics. Their development is putting the Kennesaw children at risk for prescription drug addiction and the Kennesaw community in the spotlight as a haven for pill mills.
Anthonia Fregene, a pharmacist at Trinity Pharmacy said, “Pill mills are just pain clinics that are set up just to dispense pain medication.
“They are dangerous because, as you know, pain is subjective. They show them a chart and say ‘Okay, one to ten what is your pain?’ They can say 12 and get a prescription.”
According to the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency’s website, www.gdna.georgia.gov, Kennesaw reported prescription drug abuse increased by 13 percent between 2008 and 2009, and accounted for more than 25 percent of all drug-related arrests in 2010.
The GDNA statistics for 2011 were not yet available.
Fregene, whose pharmacy is located on Cherokee Avenue, explained: “The problem with these pain clinics is that they are operated by businessmen and not doctors. People who go into business are looking to turn a profit, so they need to sell pills. Obviously the more pills they sell, it means more money.”
Currently, Georgia law also does not require owners of pain management clinics to have a medical background- creating an almost fool proof opportunity for an individual to open a pain clinic.
This creates a major concern for Fregene.
“Current laws, to me, are too loose.” Fregene said. “They can find a way around it without going against the law. In one of the current issues where they said the pharmacist filled three times the national average, nothing in the law says he did something wrong. Even though to me as a pharmacist, 200 pills is excessive, there needs to be a clear-cut law.”
In 2010, the GDNA reported that of the 729 drug-related deaths in Georgia, 560 deaths, or 77 percent, were attributed to prescription drug overdose. Toxicology reports showed that 171 of those deaths, or 23 percent, showed a presence of Oxycodone.
Oxycodone, a medication that is prescribed to treat severe pain, was one of the drugs that McCoy said that Jason readily had available for her.
Fregene explained: “It is very dangerous to take pills that are not prescribed to you, because you don’t have the proper diagnosis.”
Saundra Maass-Robinson, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in young adults and adolescents has worked at the clinic at Kennesaw State University, and has noticed an increase in prescription drug abuse among adolescents.
According to Dr. Maass-Robinson, addicts “come in with a drive… they exhibit a need to get them, and that they can’t leave without them.”
“I have had students come in and tell me what they need and the dosage that they want. I’m like, I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Patients are open to find out how treatment can help them to get better, and eventually get off medication; addicts just want the prescription.”
Dr. Maass-Robinson agrees that current legislation is not written effectively enough to thwart against prescription drug abuse, which in return, “makes it easy for people to ‘doctor shop’ and so far we really don’t have a good way to track when someone is getting different or multiple prescriptions.”
The Georgia General Assembly is committed to trying to help ease those in the medical field’s concerns by recently passing the Georgia Prescription Monitoring Program Act as a way to monitor prescribing and dispensing controlled substances. The new legislation will be operational in January 2013.
“The only way you should be able to get medication is from a physician who is licensed, and then that way if something goes wrong, someone can be held accountable.” Dr. Maass-Robinson said.
Dr. Maass-Robinson said she has admitted patients to Ridgeview Institute- a private non-profit hospital located in Cobb County- for prescription drug abuse, and although she was not McCoy’s physician, she said that these stories should be a wake-up call to parents, friends and the entire Kennesaw community in general.
Dr. Maass-Robinson warned: “We [the Kennesaw community] are being confronted with an epidemic. What’s the difference between a pill mill and a drug pusher? Not much. One is inside a building and the other is standing on the street corner. But both of them are pumping drugs into the community and ultimately into our kids.”
*Some names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.