updated 10/1/2009 12:47:31 PM ET 2009-10-01T16:47:31

Prescriptions for high-powered narcotics are on the rise throughout most of Kentucky, a sign that abuse of those drugs may also be increasing, according to a report.

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Doctors are writing more prescriptions for drugs such as painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone and the antidepressant Xanax to patients across the state, the report released Wednesday found. Five counties — Bell, Clinton, Magoffin, Owsley and Whitley — all averaged more than four prescriptions for controlled substances per resident in 2007.

"The misuse, abuse and illegal sale of prescription drugs continue to plague the commonwealth," Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown said. "Although we remain vigilant in our efforts to curtail illegal use and abuse, this remains a significant challenge."

Kentucky Patients filled 13.4 percent more prescriptions for controlled substances between 2005 and 2007, the report found. The counties with the two largest percentage increases were Carroll and Hancock counties, with 42 percent and 54 percent increases.

The more prescription drugs dispensed, the greater the chances are for abuse, said Van Ingram, director of Kentucky's office of drug control policy.

"The more prescriptions that are out there, the more diversion there is — people giving one to their friend, giving one to their neighbor, giving one to their family member," Ingram said. "We say a 13 percent increase in two years statewide. It's kind of a jump to think that we were in 13 percent more pain than we were two years ago."

Out of 120 Kentucky counties, all but the western Kentucky counties of Crittenden and Union saw an increase in prescriptions for controlled substances. Thirty-two had increases of more than 20 percent, the report found.

Among the drugs that were monitored, oxycodone saw the largest spike — nearly 24 percent — in prescriptions filled during the two-year period. Meanwhile, hydrocodone and Xanax prescriptions each increased about 13 percent.

Illegal drug combatants and Kentucky lawmakers have pushed in recent years for enhanced tools such as electronic monitoring of prescription drugs and tougher penalties for drug dealers.

Kentucky's court system has been flooded with prescription drug-related cases. They reached a five-year high in 2007 of more than 7,100 cases, the report said.

Criminal offenses related to prescription drugs increased nearly 24 percent and arrests between 2006 and 2007 increased by about 6 percent, the report said.

Nevertheless, the problem persists.

Gov. Steve Beshear said he's continuing to look for ways for Kentucky to fight illicit drugs.

"It's a continuing problem, and I think you see during tough economic times that those kinds of issues become even bigger and more important," Beshear said.

Bell County Sheriff Bruce Bennett, whose county saw an increase of nearly 16 percent in controlled substance prescriptions, said he thinks stiffer penalties for drug dealers are needed. More coordination and additional monitoring of doctors and pharmacists to watch for abuse are also needed, Bennett said.

"Most of them do a good job. It's easy for me to say they shouldn't prescribe this pain medication or narcotic to someone," Bennett said. "But we're seeing a lot of it right back on the street."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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