Police turn up less prescription pills

It is an epidemic nationwide--- including here at home.

Last year, more Americans abused prescription drugs than coke and heroin combined.

So you can imagine our surprise when we learned police are seizing far fewer prescription pills.

But if you think it means fewer drug cases in our community, then guess again.

Hydrocodone, Xanax, Benzodiazepine --- prescriptions that can either help you, or hurt you.

"These are drugs that when you withdraw - you die," said Chemical Dependency Professional Thomas Hamman.

Hamman directs a treatment agency for drug addicts.
He says prescription drug abuse is on the rise.

"These drugs - even in really small amounts - are extremely addictive," added Hamman.

There is little doubt that abuse is increasing, but new stats show a surprising trend: police are seizing far fewer pills than in the past. In 2011, the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force confiscated 500 pills--- but so far this year, it's less than half that number.

Officials tell me it doesn't mean people aren't abusing the drugs. In fact, the task force tells me drug seizures depend on confidential sources. So if a source doesn't want to talk--- entire investigations are affected.

"That skews the numbers for everything else that isn't getting attention," said Richland Police Captain Mike Cobb.

Another factor to influence the numbers? Just one 90 day supply of pills could change the numbers by 50%.

"We see more people involved with prescription medication abuse. I don't have the seizure numbers to say we're making more arrests," said Captain Cobb.

Tougher laws now let doctors track patients' prescription history.
But even with the legal crackdown, professionals say it creates a black market scene.

"We're going to start seeing prescription drugs coming out of Florida - where it's extremely easy to go and get prescription drugs," said Hamman.

The task force tells Action News it's too early to tell if the program is causing the decline in seizures. Hamman says one thing is clear - the abuse isn't going anywhere.

"It's supply and demand. It just takes the right entrepreneur," explained Hamman.

Here's some good news about cracking down on prescription drub abuse -

Americans have turned in over one million pounds of pills to the DEA.

Over 100 people dropped off meds at the Kennewick and Richland take-back event - drugs that will never make its way into the hands of an addict.