80 Percent of Female Inmates Involved in Prescription Addiction

FORT PIERCE, Fla. --  Within the last two years, St. Lucie County Jail officials have had to deal with a startling trend: more and more of their inmates are addicted to prescription drugs, and it's prescription drugs that have landed them behind bars.

"It's an epidemic," said Maj. Patrick Tighe.

WPBF 25's Terri Parker was invited to talk to several inmates and those who are dealing with the problem at the jail. The first interview: a 32-year-old mother of three, addicted to painkillers and sitting behind bars. She doesn't want to use her real name. We'll call her Myra.

"I got in a car accident, I started taking Percocet, and was taking too many Percocet and then my doctor said there's this brand new drug that came out, that's so much better for you, it has no Tylenol, it won't hurt your stomach, and he started giving me Oxys (OxyContin)" said Myra.

She's just one of the women, many of them mothers, who are filling the St. Lucie County Jail.

"My family stopped trusting me," said 23-year-old "Britney." "I wasn't taking care of my kids very well and did a lot things, got in some trouble, and now I'm here."

Jail officials are worried. They said the number of female inmates has risen from 12 to 18 percent in the last two years. And that 80 percent of them are here because of some connection to prescription painkillers.

"We're seeing this painkiller medication replace crack cocaine. It's very easy to get hold of, it's highly addictive, it's ruining lives, it's killing people, we're inundated by parents and friends calling and saying what can you do for my daughter and son, and we're trying our best to do something about it, but it's very difficult," said inmate coordinator Trevor Morganti.

Parker spoke to several inmates who blamed the easy availability of highly addictive pills at pain clinics, many in West Palm Beach.

"You know, I didn't think it was wrong," said 40-year-old Royce Ashburn, a father of three. "I carried my pill bottles in my briefcase with my name on it, you know: it's legal."

"It's just, they're so easy to get now. The doctors, they'll just prescribe it to anybody. If you have an MRI, and have insurance, it's so easy to give them," said Shaun Sneider.

Like many addicts, Sneider crushed the pills, mixed them with water and shot the liquid directly into his veins.

"I never thought in a million years, you know, I'd put a needle in my arm," said Myra.

Britney offered up a piece of advice: "Don't take them. They mess you up. you don't want to end up in here."

Jail officials have partnered with the Public Defenders office to offer a 90 day drug program within the jail. They say it helps, but it's not enough to deal with the crisis of prescription drug addiction.

They also point out the costs of addicted inmates. The county spends $1.5 million a year on hospital bills for inmates. Officials say many inmates suffer severe secondary health problems as a direct result of their addiction to prescription pain pills.