Prescription drug abuse behind some of Austin’s deadliest crimes
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It's no secret prescriptions and alcohol can be abused on their own, but when taken together, the pair can have devastating effects.
Criminal Court-at-Law Judge Elisabeth Earle sees a dangerous trend on the rise.
"These drugs are legal for some people who have a prescription,” Judge Earle said. “The problem we get to is when someone abuses that prescription."
One week ago, 31-year-old Shea Lynn Goss drove her SUV into a cluster of trees in Northwest Austin, according to police. Goss’ four-year-old daughter was killed in the crash and two other children were injured.
Police found prescription muscle relaxers in the car as well as other pills scattered about her 2004 Dodge Durango.
"If you're ever on pain medication that has been prescribed by your doctor, I think it is important for everyone to know what the side effects are,” Judge Earle said.
According to court records, Goss appeared intoxicated when she was interviewed by police, her speech was extremely slurred.
Goss is charged with one count of intoxication manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and two counts of intoxication assault, a third-degree felony.
Police records show there were 200 drug impaired driving arrests for 2011—a jump of 50 cases from 2010.
The most notorious case of was Colton Pitonyak, the man convicted in 2007 of murdering and dismembering 21-year-old Jennifer Cave. At trial, he said he was drunk and on Xanax.
Pharmacists advise alcohol and certain prescriptions don't mix.
"There is always a risk and is there is never a benefit," Steve Helm, pharmacist at People’s Pharmacy, said.
Over the last year, Linda Woodman and Brandon Daniel found that out the hard way.
Police say Woodman was on morphine and Percocet when she drove through a bus stop last February, killing one person.
Daniel, 25, is charged with killing Austin police officer Jaime Padron. In the days after Padron’s murder in April 2012, Daniel’s mother came forward and said that her son had been abusing alcohol and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.
"Self medicating is not the answer," Judge Earle said.
Travis County spends $1.1 million to help treat around 185 substance abusers who find themselves in trouble with the law.
"These are things we need to address as a society," Judge Earle said.