The gut-wrenching cost of prescription drug abuse was apparent last week in Franklin County Superior Court.

Valerie Webb, 49, sobbed her way through a sentencing hearing for furnishing methadone to her daughter last year.

That daughter, Alysha Webb, took her mother’s methadone and returned to her nearby mobile home.

And that’s where Valerie Webb found her the next day, dead.

Maine State Police later determined there were more than 100 methadone pills missing from Valerie Webb’s prescription. Tests showed a heavy concentration of the drug in her daughter’s body, three and a half times the therapeutic dose.

The cause of death: accidental overdose of methadone combined with Benadryl.


Valerie Webb was sentenced last week to two years in prison and two years of probation, leaving two young girls without a mother or grandmother.

“It is clear the defendant needs to be off opiate drugs,” the judge said. The same could be said for a lot of Americans.

The number of overdose deaths from painkillers has more than tripled over the past decade. The chief culprits — OxyContin, Vicodin and methadone — have claimed 15,000 lives in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say nearly 5 percent of Americans over age 12 report having abused painkillers in the past year.

Maine has been hit particularly hard. In fact, we lead the nation in the percentage of residents seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers.

In 2008, 386 of every 100,000 Maine residents 12 or older were admitted for treatment of painkiller addiction. That’s a 14-fold increase over 1998. Today, pharmaceutical overdose deaths in Maine outnumber motor vehicle deaths and 500 babies are born each year addicted to opiates.


Maine’s treatment rate is about three times higher than New England’s.

And that addiction rate is fueling an increase in burglaries and thefts as desperate addicts steal from others to pay for their habits.

It is difficult to believe the common theory that physicians are totally responsible for the epidemic because they write unnecessary prescriptions.

On Oct. 20, Maine Drug Enforcement agents raided a Lewiston apartment and arrested a man and two women from New York for dealing crack cocaine and oxycodone.

They confiscated 422 oxycodone pills with a street value of $8,500, and $3,500 in cash.

It would be nearly impossible to accumulate that many pills by stealing from relatives or by visiting numerous doctors for prescriptions.


How do such large quantities end up in Maine? Pharmacy robberies? Diversion from hospitals or supply houses? We don’t know, but we need to find out.

In October, Maine Attorney General William J. Schneider brought together law enforcement, public officials and medical providers for a prescription drug abuse “summit.”

Some hopeful signs include the growing use of a voluntary, online prescription drug monitoring program established in 2004. It is designed to identify people who “doctor shop” for highly addictive drugs.  About half of the state’s doctors now use the line.

Aroostook and Piscataquis counties are also using a program called “prescription alert,” which circulates a monthly list of local people who have been charged with drug crimes.

Still, we must continue to warn people that these are not recreational drugs, they are highly addictive and can easily destroy lives.

Just because they can be obtained by prescription does not mean they can be abused without serious consequences.

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