As prescription drug abuse - and the market for stolen or illegally sold prescription drugs - continues to increase, doctors and law enforcement officials are more frequently turning to a preventive procedure known as a pill count.
"Prescription drug abuse is the biggest drug problem that we've got," Randolph County Sheriff Jack Roy told The Inter-Mountain late last week.
"Some people sell their prescription medicine, and we see a lot of theft. We've seen caretakers and relatives stealing people's medication for themselves or to sell," Roy said. "Not so much professional caretakers, but more people that families hire to take care of an older person.
"Also, people will try to break in older people's homes to get their prescriptions," the sheriff said. "We've had people stop at someone's house and ask to use the restroom, and then go in their bathroom and rifle through the medicine cabinet."
Because of all the illegal activity involving prescription medicine, some doctors have taken to demanding that their patients who receive pain medication or other narcotics perform a pill count. The patients are asked to bring all their medicine in to the doctor's office, to make sure they have the amount they should, and haven't sold any or had any stolen.
Some doctors around the country now insist on a pill count before they will prescribe more medicine to patients.
Amanda Smith, pharmacy director for Health Facilities Inc., which manages Davis Health System's three local retail pharmacies, said the DHS pharmacies perform "perpetual inventories" to make sure no medicine is missing.
"Each physician has their own way of doing things," Smith said. "A lot of physicians, because some patients say their medicine has been lost or stolen or fallen in the toilet or something, ask those patients to bring their medication in to do a pill count before they write another prescription.
"Pill counts are not as prevalent here as in places where they have pain clinics or methadone clinics. Those clinics routinely have patients do pill counts," she said. "It's not so much of a problem here yet, which we can be thankful for.
"Davis Memorial Hospital itself doesn't do pill counts, and I don't know of any local doctors who do regular pill counts, but it is something that doctors sometimes turn to," Smith said.
Smith said some local physicians "also require a police report if a patient claims their medicine has been stolen. Otherwise they won't write another prescription for them."
This practice has become so common that the Sheriff's Department cannot accommodate all the requests, Roy said.
"We've got to the point now where if someone calls in and says 'someone stole my prescriptions' and wants us to do a report, we won't do it unless there's evidence that the house was broken into," Roy said.
"Some doctors insist that people who fail a pill count have to file a police report before they will give them another prescription," Roy said. "We've got so many calls on that, we just can't look into them all."
Travis Carter, the executive director of North Central Community Corrections, told The Inter-Mountain that his organization routinely conducts pill counts.
"Community Corrections is completely nontolerant to drug and alcohol abuse, but if individuals are sent to us as a condition of bond, we cannot keep them from using prescription medicine, because they haven't been sentenced," Carter said. "While we're supervising those individuals for the court system, if they are on prescription medicine, we have them do a pill count when they check in every day.
"We count their medication, and we have their prescription number. That way we can keep a running count of when they were prescribed the medication, how much they should be taking, and how much they have in their possession," Carter said.
"It's a good service, I feel, for the court system, as far as supervising at a lower level," he said. "It keeps people accountable."
Michael Parker, the Randolph County prosecuting attorney, said pill counts are effective for supervising individuals on bond.
"Essentially we follow protocol with Community Corrections, specifically when you have a situation where an individual is, as a condition of bond, not to take any substances unless they have a valid prescription. Sometimes that's difficult to supervise," Parker said.
"Using a pill-counting mechanism, particularly when you have a supervising agency such as Community Corrections, can be beneficial in making sure a person is using their medication in a manner that's consistent with their prescriptions."
Parker said he also believes pill counts in general are helpful, whether required by Community Corrections or prescribing doctors.
"As a practical matter, I think it would be beneficial to the community as a whole if steps are taken to make sure that people aren't abusing prescriptions," Parker said.