By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — SALEM — The recent felony drug arrests of two women in their 60s is reflective of the pervasiveness of the prescription drug problem, one police official said.
“It is a bit unusual,” Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said yesterday. “Having two women in their early 60s selling prescription drugs like a street-level drug dealer was a little surprising to our detectives.”
Police believe all three people arrested over the past week had been dealing drugs for a while, he said.
One of the women, Theresa Moore, 61, of Salem, told police she worked as a nurse at a local nursing home. Given her employment, Patten said, police moved quickly to arrest her.
Police made just a single undercover buy from Moore before arresting her, he said. But, he added, they have reason to believe it was not a one-time thing for Moore.
When police arrested her, Moore pulled a prescription bottle out of her bra, he said. The bottle held 63 pills.
Police searched her apartment and found several empty prescription bottles, cash and more pills.
Moore faces a single felony charge of selling Oxycontin. She was released on $1,000 personal recognizance.
Police are still investigating whether Moore stole the pills from the nursing home or its residents, Patten said. The drugs seized included Oxycontin, Suboxone and Percocet “of varying strengths and medium quantities.”
In the other two cases, undercover officers made several buys from the suspects over a period of a month or two, he said.
“It was not a onetime thing,” Patten said. “Judging by the empty prescription bottles, cash, and bottle with 63 pills in it, it had been going on for a while.”
In a separate case, police made three undercover buys from 62-year-old Valerie Watson of Salem.
Watson made the sales from her home, police said, and charges against other individuals may be forthcoming.
She faces three felony charges of selling a controlled drug, Oxycontin and Percocet.
Watson was released on $500 personal recognizance.
Hudson police arrested Todd Gurley, 41, of Hampstead on arrest warrants from Salem.
Gurley faces three felony counts of selling a controlled drug (OxyContin and Suboxone); possession of a controlled drug in a motor vehicle; and conspiracy to violate drug laws.
Hurley originally was held on $5,000 cash bail, but was not listed as a jail inmate yesterday afternoon.
Gurley, too, was involved in three undercover drug buys over the past month, Patten said.
The case is active and charges against other individuals are likely.
Prescription drug sales are a growing problem, one that crosses age, gender and socio-economic boundaries, Patten said.
“I think it’s a significant problem for all age groups, whether they’re abusing it or selling it,” he said.
As people age, he said, they are more likely to be prescribed many of the medications commonly abused, but prescribed for a variety of legitimate reasons. Over time, he said, many people can amass a significant number of prescribed painkillers.
“If someone is having financial difficulties, has 15 pill bottles in the drawer, and can make a few thousand bucks from them, it may become an option — but not a good one,” Patten said.
On the street, painkillers including OxyContin are selling for about $1 a milligram, he said, meaning a standard 80-mg pill sells for $80.
That cost also drives some people addicted to prescription drugs to heroin, he said, because heroin is so much cheaper.
“Heroin is significantly cheaper than prescription drugs,” he said.