Out of control. That is how Pearl River County officials describe the death rate from drug overdoses there, considering the small population size.
On Friday, a 37-year-old man was found dead behind a garbage dumpster in Picayune. The coroner said his death marked the 17th person in the county to die of an overdose since January. That man overdosed on heroine, but officials said most overdoses were due to prescription abuse.
They said people need to stop thinking it can't happen to their family. Law enforcers said not a day goes by that someone in Pearl River County isn't caught with illegal prescription drugs.
Picayune Deputy Chief Chad Dorn said officers find "people being in possession of prescription medication and it's not prescribed to them. So they're getting them somewhere. The person who is being prescribed, they're selling it and so we're making arrests on a daily basis."
Just since July, the Pearl River County Coroner said there have been nine drug overdose deaths. He said victims span all incomes and education levels.
"We've got families from very prominent families in our community to lower income families," said Coroner Derek Turnage. "We've got families from across the spectrum that are experiencing their family members passing away from the use of narcotics and other illicit drugs."
Law enforcement officials said they need support from doctors. Donnie Saucier is the chief investigator for the Pearl River County Sheriff's Department.
"Ninety nine percent of practitioners are good honest ethical physicians. It's that one percent that is not that are basically overwriting these prescriptions," said Saucier. "I'm not a medical practitioner, but I'm a career law enforcement officer. I see the effects of the overwriting and the combination of the drugs that are being taken and they're deadly."
"The 17 overdose deaths in our county in the past 10 months, it's out of control," said Saucier. "If we had 17 people die in Pearl River County in a 10 month period from, let's say, Malaria, it would be an international outrage. We'd have representatives from Washington, DC and beyond in this county trying to figure out how to stop that problem. The question is why don't we have the outrage over these overdose deaths?"
As Pearl River County prepares for the annual March Against Drugs, officials say everyone needs to take a stand.
"This is not a law enforcement problem. Not a hospital problem. Not a church problem," Dorn said. "It's a community problem. It's going to take the community getting together as a whole and standing up."
Turnage said, "We need to start at a community level. We need to start within our own families to promote awareness and promote education and look at the people, the people that are within our families that need help. We need to get involved."
Officials said roughly 58,000 people live in Pearl River County. The March Against Drugs is this Saturday at 9:30 am in Picayune. The walk will start at the Applebee's parking lot on Memorial Drive and continue to the park.
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