Keeping our children safe: The prescription pill epidemic

When we think of illegal drug use in this country, we often think of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, marijuana, and other familiar illegal drugs. Although these are widely abused, we often overlook the most dangerous and most widely abused category of drug in the country; prescription pills. I’m not speaking of a subtle problem involving people undergoing treatment for pain and abusing their prescriptions, but of our children, some as young as 12, abusing prescription pills in order to get high.

A study conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that prescription pill and marijuana use surpassed tobacco use and binge drinking among the nation’s teens. In an Associated Press video titled: “U.S. Aims At Deadliest Drug Problem: Painkillers,” it was reported that there are more prescription drug overdoses in the U.S. every year than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. Gil Kerlikowske, President Barack Obama’s national drug policy advisor said there are more prescription drug overdoses in the U.S. than deaths due to gunshots.

In response to the growing epidemic of opiod-based prescription drug abuse (Oxycontin, Oxycodone [Percocet] and others), Massachusetts formed the Oxycontin and Heroin Commission (OHC). In November 2009, the OHC published Recommendations of the Oxycontin and Heroin Commission. The OHC reported in this publication that, between 2002 and 2007, Massachusetts lost 78 servicemen and women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the same period, 3,265 people died of opiate-related overdoses in the Bay State.

As a Maynard police officer, I’ve seen a growing trend in prescription pill abuse from a law enforcement point of view. When I began my career here nearly 10 years ago, marijuana and heroin were the drugs we came into contact with the most. In the last five years, we’ve seen a staggering rise in prescription pill-related incidents. Studies have shown that teenagers as young as 12 begin abusing marijuana and prescription pills. They feel that because medications are prescribed by doctors they are safe to use. What they don’t realize is that the active or main ingredient in prescription medication such as Oxycodone and Oxycontin is basically a synthesized form of opium and is just as harmful and addictive and that these drugs are being prescribed for a specific condition. Doctors regulate and document the issuance and usage of these drugs and their specific dosages.

Teenagers initially obtain these medications at home. Look in your medicine cabinets and you may find old prescriptions for various pain medications that were prescribed to you after oral surgery for example. You probably did not take all of your medication and may still have some left. Teenagers take these medications and abuse them. After the home supply runs out or the thefts are discovered, teenagers purchase these medications illegally. The general rule is that these medications cost around $1 per milligram on the street. For an 80-milligram Oxycontin, that’s $80 per pill. Generally teenagers in this area are regularly abusing Percocet (Oxycodone). These can go for up to $35 per pill. After building a habit, costing the user hundreds of dollars a day to support, they graduate to heroin, which can cost $6-$10 per bag on the street.

In order to support their growing habits, teenagers will often resort to criminal acts in order to pay for drugs. Larceny, robbery, drug dealing, prostitution, and breaking and entering are all crimes that drug addicts perpetrate in order to support a habit. Legal trouble, however, should be the least of their worries. Many opiate abusers graduate from pills to heroin and, in many cases, become intravenous (IV) drug users, ingesting heroin via hypodermic syringe. This can lead to the user contracting many diseases including Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, sepsis, and other infections and illnesses. As explained above, overdose is common and, due to the potency of heroin in New England and the unknown materials dealers use to cut or mix heroin with, overdose is a constant possibility for users.

Remember that opiate addicts are all around us and are someone’s child, parent, sibling and friend. There are many treatment options available, but the addict must be willing to be treated. The percentage of addicts successfully quitting and never suffering a relapse is low; around 5 percent. The key is to recognize early on whether or not your child is abusing drugs and to help your child with treatment, counseling, and discipline. Do not become an “enabler.” Look for the signs of drug addiction: An A student whose grades dramatically drop within a short period of time; slight to significant behavioral changes such as mood swings, depression, and suicidal thoughts and statements; disinterest in activities that a child once enjoyed; a sudden termination of a long-standing friendship for no apparent reason.

Know your child. Take an interest in his or her personal life. Be an active part in your child’s life. Hold your child accountable for his or her actions. Know what your child is doing and who he or she is doing it with. These are all ways that you can steer your child clear of bad influences both at school and afterwards. Educate your children on the hazards of drug abuse. Parents can obtain additional information on the drug abuse problem and facts and tips on how to educate themselves and their children at www.mass.gov and www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.

Feel free to contact the Maynard Police Department at 978-897-1011 with any questions or concerns regarding this issue.

Detective Paul Maria
 
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