The Ledger-Enquirer recently ran a story about a postal worker struggling with prescription drug abuse in Columbus, GA. Richard Hunnicutt recently pled guilty to charges that will land him in a federal courtroom in Macon this upcoming spring. During his work as a mail sorter, he took packages of pain pills that were in transit from the Department of Veterans Affairs and kept them for himself.
Pain pill addiction is such an overwhelming problem that Hunnicutt could not resist stealing the medication intended for veterans under treatment for post-war trauma and other issues. Veterans have enough problems with addiction and post-traumatic stress syndrome without people like Hunnicutt adding to their woes—but now Hunnicutt has miseries of his own.
Hunnicutt’s job actually placed him in Macon at the time of the theft. Law enforcement officials searching his home found 13 mail bags containing prescription medication addressed to others as well as eight bottles of pain pills that he had already taken. Prescription drug abuse in Columbus is a problem that local officials are working to address, but for Hunnicutt, his addiction has resulted in the loss of a good job. His reputation will carry a black mark in the future that he will never be able to remove.
Hunnicutt told the police that he had suffered a work-related injury in 2003, but it’s unclear whether he was working for the post office or for a prior employer at the time of his initial injury. Over time he became addicted to the pain pills but he could no longer get the medication he needed. Desperation drove him to stealing drugs on the job, and finally he was caught.
Who knows what price Hunnicutt will actually pay for his crime? U.S. Code for mail theft carries a sentence of up to five years. Theft of prescription drugs of any kind results in federal charges, the sentence depending on the drugs stolen. The penalty for Schedule II drugs, which include pain pills, could run from two to 15 years in prison.
The Price of Prescription Drug Abuse in Columbus
Prescription drugs used for pain become quite expensive when they’re not written by a doctor and covered by some kind of insurance. The person who has to resort to buying them on the street often runs out of money, and in some cases his dealer may no longer be able to obtain opiate pills like hydrocodone or oxycodone. That’s when many people make the switch to heroin which is cheaper and more available.
For Hunnicutt, the cost of the addiction has gone beyond the cost of the prescription drugs. It will now include his legal costs. Will he lose his home? Will he lose his family? His future job prospects look dim, whether or not he is actually convicted of the crime.
These arrests cost the taxpayers money as well. The location of the arrest has much to do with the price: The cost of addiction in places like Columbus and Macon can be vastly different. Bibb County, where Macon is located, has established a drug court for adults convicted of prescription drug abuse. The court is presided over by a judge who recognizes the medical diagnosis of addiction and then requires those sentenced to participate in intensive treatment when their addiction compels them to commit a crime. The crimes run the gamut from those caught using drugs, or those arrested for actions committed in order to obtain their drugs. A drug court candidate might be someone who stole a car to pay for his drugs, not for some other purpose, for example.
Attendance at drug court must be regular, generally determined by the probation department, and also the person attends therapy for drug addiction as recommended by substance abuse treatment professionals who work with the court. During their course of treatment and participation in drug court, the person can continue going to work and carry on the rest of his life normally.
The Telegraph reports that the Chief Justice for Georgia’s Supreme Court, the Honorable Carol Hunstein, is urging other counties to utilize Bibb County’s drug court as a model to start their own courts for drug abuse offenders. It takes time to set these courts up, however, so Hunnicutt possibly will be stuck in the system without the kind of help that a drug court could offer.
There is a drug court for teenagers in Muscogee County, where Columbus is located, but adults found guilty of prescription drug abuse in Columbus have no access to a drug court at this writing. They’ve got to fulfill the sentencing handed down by the court—and in many cases jobs are lost and families are broken up.
Drug court saves money not only for the drug offender but also for the state. According to The Ledger’s story, the adult drug court costs the county $13.54 per person per day, while sending that person to the state prison costs four times as much.
Those who have the opportunity to go through drug court have much better future prospects. While seven percent of them re-offend, that number is low compared to the 29 percent ex-prisoners who re-offend. Drug court is a win-win situation for everybody.
Up through early 2015, the Bibb County drug court treated 47 people who were collectively arrested over 350 times. Follow-up on those people at this writing shows only 15 arrests among them.
Methadone Treatment Programs: Another Avenue of Help
Someone struggling with prescription drug abuse in Columbus can find treatment through a medication-assisted treatment program in order to overcome their addiction—before the courts catch up with them. Many people addicted to opiate pain pills fail at abstinence-based treatment such as simple outpatient treatment or even in a residential setting, but they find that therapy with methadone or Suboxone offers a real chance at recovery.
Medication-assisted treatment in Columbus means the addicted person can meet with a doctor for approval in such a program. For many people, it’s the only way to control withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate abuse. They learn what their triggers are—the feelings or situations that make them want to use drugs. Methadone or Suboxone programs offer a genuine opportunity to stay on the right side of the law and get your life back in order.