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12/8/2013 6:00:00 AM
Mohave County awash in pain medications
Workers recently installed this receptacle at the Kingman Police Department. It is available for residents to drop off unwanted, expired, or no longer required prescription medication. (Courtesy)
Workers recently installed this receptacle at the Kingman Police Department. It is available for residents to drop off unwanted, expired, or no longer required prescription medication. (Courtesy)
Kingman police install pill drop box
KINGMAN - Residents with unwanted or no longer required prescription medicine who are worried the drugs might wind up in the wrong hands can take advantage of a drop box that was installed this week at the Kingman Police Department.

"You can reduce access to addictive or harmful medications for accidental or intentional misuse by children and adults by disposing of your expired or unwanted prescription drugs," said KPD spokeswoman Jennifer Sochocki in an email. "This is an environmentally safe alternative to disposing of medications in landfills or sewer systems."

The receptacle was installed Wednesday in the outer lobby of the Kingman Police Department, 2730 E. Andy Devine Avenue, and can be accessed day or night, seven days a week.

There are a few rules. Medications must be in their original container or properly packaged in some type of sealed container and can be either pills or patches. Sharp objects or liquids cannot be accepted and no commercial disposal is permitted, said Sochocki.

Residents of Kingman who haven't the means to get to the department can contact KPD to have unwanted prescription medication picked up.

Doug McMurdo
Miner Staff Reporter

Editor's note: This is the second installment in our series regarding prescription pain medicines, those who need them, those who treat patients and those who fill their prescriptions. The series will also focus on those who are trying to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse by people who have no legitimate reason to take them other than to get high.

Today, local law enforcement officers explain the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in Mohave County.

KINGMAN - Mohave County is Arizona's ground zero when it comes to the illegal use of prescription drugs. The chant "We're No. 1" sounds less than celebratory when our first place status involves the highest rate of pills dispensed per person in Arizona - enough to provide every adult in the county with a pill every few hours, 24/7 for four straight weeks, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Mohave County is ranked first in the state for youth misuse of prescription drugs. The state is ranked sixth in the nation for abuse among people 12 years old and older. Mohave County is ranked second in the state for the rate of deaths involving prescription pain relievers.

At a meeting the justice commission hosted in September at Kingman Regional Medical Center, a plan called the Prescription Drug Reduction Initiative was unveiled. The plan is described as a "multi-systemic, multi-agency collaborative approach to reduce prescription drug misuse in Arizona."

Representatives from law enforcement, doctors, pharmacists and community leaders participated in the discussion and there was an urgent sense that immediate action was necessary, according to Kingman Police Chief Robert DeVries.

KPD Sgt. Lymon Watson and two detectives involved in undercover work in both Kingman and Mohave County also spoke with the Miner. They asked that their names not be used or their photographs taken for this story.

Pills, Pills Everywhere

The number of powerful painkiller prescriptions that have been filled by Mohave County pharmacies is staggering.

"In 2010, Mohave County was second in the state for the distribution of oxycodone," said DeVries. That year, DeVries said, 6.8 million doses were distributed.

"That's enough to give 34 pills to every person in Mohave County. That's 200,000 people," said DeVries.

How many patients were involved is unknown, said DeVries, but not all of them had valid prescriptions. DeVries said prescription forgery is rampant.

The problem could be reduced if more doctors took advantage of the state's electronic prescription program that was implemented to combat forged or altered prescriptions.

"Only 20 percent of the doctors in Mohave County use it," said one undercover officer. The reluctance, according to law enforcement, is that e-prescriptions create another step for doctors to take.

Patients also "doctor shop" in search of pills, and people who have painkillers sell or give them to friends and relatives.

Not surprisingly, according to undercover officers, the same people who deal dangerous drugs like methamphetamine also sell pain medicine to addicts.

Perhaps most alarming, Watson, the school resource officer, said one in four students from sixth grade through 12th grade in Kingman steal prescribed medication from their parents.

"They take it right out of the medicine cabinet," said DeVries.

Local law enforcement officers are also taking an increasing number of reports from people claiming their prescription meds were stolen.

Call them cynical, but deputies and police don't think the crime happens nearly as often as it's reported.

In order to get a replacement prescription, a police report detailing the theft by law must be provided to the prescribing physician.

"I can't tell you how many times somebody calls and says somebody stole my prescription," said DeVries. "Most claim the pills were in their car. I find it interesting they would keep narcotic pills in their car. They're not supposed to be driving."

That in turn has led to an increase in the number of residents arrested for driving while under the influence of pain medication, whether they have a valid prescription and a legitimate need for the pills or not.

Yeh Day in Kingman

One focus of the multi-agency Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement Team is on doctors who specialize in pain management.

Nobody is more aware of the pill epidemic than the physicians who prescribe painkillers.

They have former doctor Albert Yeh to thank, in large measure, for the scrutiny under which they now find themselves.

Yeh was a Las Vegas doctor with licenses in Nevada and Arizona. He spent his Tuesdays practicing medicine in Golden Valley. Yeh didn't actually treat patients as much as he wrote out prescriptions for painkillers. A lot of prescriptions.

So many, said DeVries, that many of them were prewritten the night before to save time.

Other timesaving measures made a mockery of the practice of medicine. Patients did not have their vital signs checked. Medical examinations were not performed.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which investigated Yeh for two years, Yeh created a computer program that allowed him to automatically enter false information on patients' charts.

One DEA undercover officer was prescribed painkillers 58 seconds after his visit with Yeh began. Yeh prescribed another undercover officer 240 painkillers just two weeks apart.

So many of Yeh's patients headed to area pharmacies after their brief interlude with Yeh that pharmacists throughout Kingman referred to Tuesdays as "Yeh day," said DeVries.

To add insult to injury - and to guarantee the state would be aggressive in supporting Yeh's ultimate prosecution - the doctor not only wrote more than 6,000 prescriptions working one day a week in 2009, about 90 percent of his patients were insured through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Patients paid an average of $200 for the initial visit and $75 every time Yeh wrote a refill. He then billed the state insurance program $8 million, of which he was paid about $3 million.

Medicare and private insurance providers were bilked out of almost $1 million, according to DeVries.

Yeh saw about 150 patients every Tuesday. He never monitored them to determine if their dose was correct, if they had adverse reactions or taken any other steps most doctors routinely do in treating pain patients. Indeed, his staff referred to follow-up appointments as "refill visits."

On a single day, Yeh billed the state insurance program 69 hours. In January 2011, he pleaded guilty to three serious felonies - illegal control of an enterprise, money laundering and fraudulent schemes and artifices.

He agreed to serve 2.5 years in prison (he has since been paroled and deported to China) surrendered his medical licenses in Nevada and Arizona, and was ordered to pay about $700,000 in restitution to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Heroin Makes a Comeback

The most abused pill in Mohave County is the opiate OxyContin, according to undercover narcotics detectives who work for MAGNET, which includes members of both the KPD and Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

As more doctors worried about falling under DEA scrutiny shy away from treating pain, and pharmacists are limited on how many prescriptions they can dispense each calendar month, people are turning to heroin as the pills become more difficult to find.

The effects of heroin are similar to OxyContin. The pills are not taken orally as prescribed, but are crushed and smoked in pipes or injected into veins through a syringe.

Not everybody who uses such powerful drugs understands their limits and they die.

DeVries estimates at least a dozen overdose deaths were recorded in the city in the last two years, most of them from heroin or powerful prescribed opiates.

Not only does heroin give them a high similar to that provided by OxyContin, undercover officers said heroin is less expensive than pills.

"It's definitely cheaper to buy heroin than OxyContin," said one detective. "You can get a pill for $10 to $25 or $30 dollars." The detective said the general price structure is $1 for every milligram.

While the prescription drug problem is acute in Mohave County, no area of the nation is immune.

In 1998, roughly 2,000 deaths were attributed to opioid overdoses in the U.S. In 2008, more than 14,800 deaths were caused by opioid misuse, representing a 600 percent increase in a decade.

"I've seen more overdoses in Kingman in the last two years than I've seen in my entire career," said Watson, a 24-year veteran.

Drugs in Schools

Watson said marijuana continues to be the most popular drug in Kingman high schools, but prescription painkillers are giving pot a run.

Fortunately, no high school students have been found in possession of heroin, but that doesn't mean the drug isn't around.

"We know it's in the schools," said Watson. "Students have told me about it."

Watson said there was widespread prescription drug abuse occurring at the Kingman Academy of Learning High School a couple of years ago, but the problem has since diminished.

"They think because it's from a doctor it won't hurt you," said Watson, who also said students will tell him they would never smoke cigarettes, but those same students see no problem with smoking marijuana.

"We're sending them mixed signals," he said. "They think marijuana is medicine."

Twenty Mohave County high school students were arrested on drug charges at school in 2012 following 29 in 2011.

The Objective

The law enforcement professionals who spoke with the Miner understand their attempts to get a handle on prescription drug abuse has affected legitimate pain patients who can't always get their prescriptions filled when they need them because pharmacists are limited on how many they can dispense in a given month.

"We sympathize with people in need of help with their pain," said DeVries, "but our focus is on abuse. The more we can do to get illegal prescription abuse down, the more people in need will get their medication."

Law enforcement also agrees that prescription drug abuse leads to a rippling of crime in the county. Not only are incidents of DUI and domestic violence on the increase, the number of property crimes such as theft also are rising.

ICT - Dr. Mohtaseb
Related Stories:
• Prescription drug quotas leave some living in agony
• Doctor's assistant pleads guilty to fraudulent schemes, money laundering
• Judge denies semantics ploy by Yeh lawyer
• Doctor charged after DEA probe

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, January 5, 2014
Article comment by: Stormy Weather

It is a deplorable situation in Kingman when a patient dying of cancer cannot get a prescription from his attending MD but has to be sent to a "Pain Specialist" to get relief from their constant pain. I saw this first hand when I was assisting a friend with medical visits. Not only did it take 6 weeks for the MD to make the referral, but another 6 weeks to get an appointment with the "screening nurse" then another month to actually see the "Pain Doctor" to get a prescription. This was a 72 year old man who had been diagnosed with several forms of cancer for over a year. This was no addict, but someone that was in extreme pain. His oncologist would not write a prescription nor would his radiologist in Kingman General. After screaming and yelling about the pain the man was in the radiologist finally made a referral to the "pain doctor". All the doctors should be ashamed of the way this man was treated. Finally he left this earth and is in pain no more.

Posted: Saturday, January 4, 2014
Article comment by: Vera Tee

Unfortunately, there are good Doctors who will not dispense pain medications indiscriminately and those who will give pills to anyone who wants them in high quantities. I've been approached by people trying to unload some horribly powerful pain meds at "bargain prices" because they needed money FAST. I wasn't interested.

I watched as these same people "worked" a church parking lot while the Pastor sat there within earshot: two people took the bait and became very ill a third person was hospitalized. Yet you say you represent God. Which one?

What is sad about this is the good Doctor who has patients who legitimately need such strong medications. And yes, I know a Doctor in Kingman who keeps moving his office every so often and runs it like an assembly line: people who see this Doctor have to say NO to his generous offers for more and stronger drugs.

I've been in MY Doctor's office and HEARD the Receptionist get bullied in phone call after phone call by some patient demanding a drug after minor surgery: a drug usually prescribed for people with Stage IV Cancer. Refer the guy to "Dr. Take 2 & Don't Wake Up."

People with legitimate needs should HAVE their meds. Any good Doctor can differentiate the real from the whining junkie.

Posted: Saturday, January 4, 2014
Article comment by: Ron Butlin

What a joke this article is. Even if this is in the opinion section, your opinion should have another opinion from a different standpoint for anybody with an IQ over 12 to think what you say is the same as theirs.
I am a 30 year old pain patient with a disease that has NO cure, that attacks my joints, leaving me in horrible pain. My primary care doctor here in Kingman is a saint, but the DEA is making him send me to LAKE HAVASU OR BULLHEAD CITY to see a doctor for my condition. Yes, I am on AHCCCS, you try to work with this plus bi-polar disorder and social anxiety so bad I can't go get groceries at Safeway being around all the people.
So how do I feel when I'm shaking in the exam room of the doctor waiting for him to come in because I know he thinks I'm a 'seeker' due to my age, even though I have ALL my medical records showing that I actually have these painful conditions. And I pass every drug test, sign the pain contract, no big deal... that's protocol. But on December 27th, he kicks me out due to "illegal drug in my systewm" HUH???? This idiot thinks I do illegal drugs now too? There is no way in hell I would risk losing the small amount he actually gives me to illegal drugs.
PAIN PATIENTS are ALWAYS treated like criminals, and this BOGUS article proves MY opinion. My God

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013
Article comment by: ERNST KRUGER

The first step in resolving a problem is realizing there is one.

I support any effort to resolve this.

Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Article comment by: Jay Fleming

Morphine is used in heart attacks as a vasodilator to releive chest pain.

I wonder what paramedics will tell the wife of a heart attack victim, when they don't have the needed medication?

Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Article comment by: Origional Kingman Resident

"We live in the wealthiest, most affluent country in the world thanks to capitalism and democracy. A potent mix, but it has its downside, as Marx once so precisely explored. "

And tell us the names of any countries that have advanced under Marxism, as far as the US has under capitalism.

Keep in mind, until this country became quasi socialist in the last decade, even the most impoverished here has the opportunity to advance upward if they chose to do so. In socialisti, Communistic, and dictorial societies, the opportunities for upward mobility only exist for the elites in power, not for the common man.
The reason we are seeing the widening gap between the rich and poor in the US, is due to the expanding grip of the government on private enterprise through excessive regulation and market manipulation. In other words, Marxist policies.

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: Obama's Plan ?

"Medicare and private insurance providers were bilked out of almost $1 million, according to DeVries."
Not to take away from this story, but I wonder if that almost $1 million will be put back into Medicare (or the $700,000 Yeh has to repay as restitution). Isn't this some of the Medicare fraud that is being cleaned up so the burden of Medicare costs are not as great?

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: I've seen it Personally

I have worked with a particular doctor in the Kingman area who does not follow protocol for painkillers. It's a sad thing because all of the "seekers" know who to see, and they are never disappointed.
A seeker called to the office I worked in demanding a refill. This particular patient had not been seen in over 90 days. As required by law for the medication this patient was seeking, he needed to be reassessed every 30 days. When I informed him that he needed to be seen first, I was cussed at and insulted. Shortly thereafter the patient came into the office demanding again that a refill be given, and the situation escalated and I was again berated, cussed at and insulted.
As the doctor came into the room, I was told to go ahead and authorize the refill. The patient was well aware that a refill would be given if demanded.
There was no hesitation with this doctor. The patient walked without being seen, new prescription in hand.
I don't doubt it's that easy with others in the area as well.

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: legit pain patient

It's a shame that legit pain patients have to suffer because of the abusers! Instead of punishing the legit patients prosecute the abusers! It is not a nice feeling when you go to your doctor and are treated like a drug addict just because other people abuse! time limit.. your'e nuts this is not communist china!

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

Before the problem can be solved, it is necessary to understand its source. How it comes to be. Drug abuse is just one of the symptoms. Poverty is another, as is violence.

We live in the wealthiest, most affluent country in the world thanks to capitalism and democracy. A potent mix, but it has its downside, as Marx once so precisely explored. There are winners and there are losers in this game as well as painful consequences if you're on the downside.

It comes to society whether the losers are compensated sufficiently to allow a life with some dignity. Or shall we hang the losers out to dry? Be done with them?

Consider that they did add the sweat of their brow in one way or another to the common pot (or capital reserves), and just wound up in the end, unable to earn a decent living for themselves for whatever reason.

Pragmatically, every individual is an asset in a capitalist economy, even if they are on the public dole. That person's poverty creates a job in the social services sector and gives substance to philanthropic causes. No one is so completely worthless that their life should be abandoned, and there is always the possibility, however remote, of rehabilitation. Nor does capitalism care from where the wealth flows. That's up to us.

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: mr. parker

@Jay Fleming: You make some good points but remember that women are subject to OIAD also. DHEA is a supplement that women might want to look into.

A physician has to believe the patient, to let someone suffer is unprofessional conduct and cruel. If you find out later, that they're lying to you, then they shouldn't get a thing but a number to a physician that treats with suboxone or methadone.

There are some points that were not mentioned in the story. More of those people who claimed prescriptions were stolen might be telling the truth. People who work in pharmacies are well aware of who is taking what and a phone call to a friend who might be willing to burglarize a home for pills is not unheard of.

By law you have to keep the prescription in the individual container, if an officer stopped someone and found loose pills on them, that's another charge.

The story I heard all the time was, that the prescription fell into the toilet. Funny how prescriptions for high blood pressure never fall into the toilet.

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: Jack a Lope

my neighbor was put into a nursing home for two months following knee replacement. i went over to visit her and she had 24 12"x12" cards of nothing but pain killers, including Oxy. i asked her if she was in really bad pain. She said she had no pain and had not take them for several days but that they gave them to her any way, said they were purchased against her medicare, and that she HAD to take them home.

I wonder if something like this could be donated to hospice

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: Jay Fleming

The reason only 20% of the physicians have access to the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program, is because 80% of the physicians are too afraid of DEA to even write a prescription for pain medication.

In 1997 the administrator at Kingman Regional Hospital told me, "people live and die in pain my hospital everyday, and there is nothing I can do". Seems little has changed.

If people are forging prescriptions, law enforcement needs to arrest them. If people are selling prescription pills, law enforcement needs to arrest them.

The pain doctor I go to does things right, he uses pain contracts, drug tests patients regularly, uses tamper proof prescription forms, printed on a computer.

Another pain doctors I saw had stacks of prescriptions where they were obvious to patients. For convince the blank prescriptions were pre-signed by every practitioner at the practice, so someone at the desk could do easy refills.

The problem is a very small number of bad doctors, and patients who sell their pain medications.

But it's our drug policies that make a prescription for 90, 80mg Oxycontin pills worth $7200 on the street in the first place......

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: Joe Miller

Most law enforcement personnel would also agree that as with prescription medications most users of alcoholic beverages ingest the drug in a safe and responsible manner. Most law enforcement officers also recognize that the majority of so-called drug-induced crime is associated with alcohol use and far exceeds that attributable to the use of any other drug.

Unfortunately what many officers fail to recognize is that as was the case with alcohol prohibition the majority of the crime and health problems most people currently associate with drug use and/or abuse are directly attributable to the prohibition of these drugs rather than actual use or possession.

History has clearly shown we cannot arrest our way out of our nation’s drug problems nor should individuals who are using a substance responsibly be incarcerated. We’ve also learned that arresting people for having a medical problem such as drug addiction is an ineffective treatment strategy and when we do so we only make matters worse for the addict and the rest of society.

It is time we set aside the hysteria and began to engage policies that more effectively address the negative consequences of drug use and/or abuse for users and non-users alike.

Heck, if for no other reason let’s do it for the children.

Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013
Article comment by: Jay Fleming

Pills Pills Everywhere

"DeVries said, 6.8 million doses were distributed" "That's enough to give 34 pills to every person in Mohave County. That's 200,000 people," said DeVries.

But everybody in Mohave County doesn't have chronic pain, and a lot of us here are older, 24% over 65 compared to 14% for Arizona, add the hundreds of snowbirds, and it's higher..

Oxycodone comes in several forms, but for most patients it'a 4 hour medication, that many times says take on to two tablets every four hours. At two tablets every four hours, that's 360 pills a month, or 4320 a year.

Even though 6.8 million Oxycodone are enough to give 34 pills to every person in Mohave County. It's only enough for 1574 pain patients.

That's why the quotas on things like Morphine instant release, another four hour is so wrong. The 5000 pills the pharmacy received as their quota, is only enough for 27 patients.

Law Enforcement should not tell your physician what medicine they should prescribe, or in what amount.

When physicians, or pharmacists live in fear their freedom, and families can be taken away because they do their job, how can they practice good medicine?

Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013
Article comment by: Jay Fleming

I was invited as a pain patient by Representation Goodale to attend the meeting September 25th.

I thought Town Hall meetings were about input from the people involved.

I was disappointed when the first thing Shana Malone from the Criminal Justice Commission said, was I don't have pain, but people don't need all those pain medications.

I thought the meeting was about prescription drugs, and the suicide rate in Mohave County.

But when I told the group the suicide rate had jumped after the arrest of Dr Yeh, Malone said they were aware.

I told her many pain doctors testing for Opioid Induced Androgen Deficiency. That low Testosterone caused muscle loss, loss of energy, low libido, and more depression for already depressed pain patients.

Malone made some comment to the front of the group, I assume about me not getting sex, because everyone up front laughed.

I was trying to tell her why pain patients committed suicide, and she makes a joke.

She had already told me I had made enough comments, and she didn't have time for more from me, so I walked out.

If a man was running the meeting, and a woman was trying to tell a group of medical professionals about estrogen causing depression, and the guy suggested she needed to get laid, I don't think he would be working there long.

Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013
Article comment by: Michaele Lee

All they are going to do is push legitimate patients into buying illegal drugs. While they might catch some criminals who sell their pills, those people will find other schemes, while the real patients are writhing in agony in their beds.

Kingman has so many addicts, but no methadone clinic. To get in a detox facility you have to drive to Winslow or Phoenix. Winslow has one but not Kingman? Why is it that these other communities has the help but looking for it in Kingman you are referred to other cities? Sure help is help but it makes a horribly difficult situation that much more difficult. Dont know many addict who have dependable cars and gas money.

Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013
Article comment by: Time Limit

Put a time limit on every pain med prescription. Have a plan to discontinue the product before it is ever prescribed.Next, make the patient take the day's med in front of a doctor,nurse, or pharmacist. They can't sell what they don't have.

Posted: Sunday, December 8, 2013
Article comment by: Al DiCicco

What is a big difference between 1960's and now? The lack of parenting of children and fatherless homes, replaced by electronic baby-sitters. There has been drug abuse for 50 plus years, it's not new. Children now listen to their peers, usually not authority or the parents. This was all done by design by the CIA to make parents ineffective and detached from their children. Since Gloria Steinem and the CIA pushed the feminist agenda, both parents work enriching the IRS and children are scooped up to be indoctrinated. The State Public Institutional Learning Facilities a.k.a. schools, raise most children and fail on social issues. Welcome to Idiocracy. We've been hoodwinked. The USA was overthrown in 1963, wake up.

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