J. D. Heyes
July 19, 2011
No parent wants to lose a child, but when one dies from something that should be very preventable, the heartbreak and tragedy is compounded. Such is increasingly the case with prescription drugs – they’re killing our youth.
Sarah Shay and Savannah Kissick, of Morehead, Ky., best friends since high school, were both victims of what experts and the White House are describing as an epidemic of prescription drug deaths. Sarah died in 2006 at the tender age of 19; Savannah just three years later, at 22.
Since the medications they were using were prescribed by physicians, some experts believe they carry some sort of legitimacy. But the fact is they are being abused by young people just the same as drugs that are illegal – more so even, in some cases.
“I don’t think the kids have any idea how addicting the substance is,” Karen Shays told the BBC in an interview. “Before they know it, bam! They’re addicted.”
Drugs like Xanax, Oxycodone, Klonopin and Hydrocodone are routinely being abused more and more in Kentucky in particular, but in other parts of the nation too, by teenagers and young adults. So bad is the problem that the state has set up rehabilitation centers, where a huge number of addicts – more all the time – are being treated.
So bad is the addition that some kids have even turned to crime to feed it.
Some of the kids say they could have likely found other drugs to feed their habit, but prescription drugs were not only legal but much easier to get.
All in all, it’s sort of like Armageddon, but with prescription drugs – a sort of “Pharmageddon,” if you will, as evidenced by Kentucky’s overflowing jails, say state officials.
“I believe I can safely say that over 80 percent of the inmates in the Pike County regional detention center are in there for something dealing with their addiction to prescription drugs,” Dan Smoot, director of law enforcement with an organization called Unite – a new and innovative counterdrug that combines police investigations, treatment and education.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
According to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, in a recent report, the problem stretches beyond the borders of Kentucky – and it’s getting worse.
“A number of national studies and published reports indicate that the intentional abuse of prescription drugs, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, to get high is a growing concern — particularly among teens — in the United States. In fact, among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana,” said the study, called, “Teens and Prescription Drugs.”
“Though overall teen drug use is down nationwide and the percentage of teens abusing prescription drugs is still relatively low compared to marijuana use, there are troubling signs that teens view abusing prescription drugs as safer than illegal drugs and parents are unaware of the problem,” it said.
In particular, the study found:
- Teens are turning more and more away from illegal street drugs and instead are taking (and abusing) more prescription medications – so much so that new users of prescription drugs have caught up with new users of marijuana;
- Next to marijuana, the next most common thing kids use to get high are prescription drugs;
- Teens abuse prescription medications because they mistakenly believe that, since they are prescribed, they provide safe highs;
- Most teens get prescription drugs easily and free, usually from friends or relatives;
- The most commonly abused drugs by kids are OxyContin and Vicodin; and
- Adolescents are more likely to get hooked on prescription medication than are young adults.
The study found that teens most likely to abuse prescription medications live in the west and southeast. The most common abuse occurs in the following states: Arkansas (10.3 percent); Kentucky (9.8 percent); Montana (9.6 percent); Oregon (9.3 percent); Oklahoma (9.1 percent); Tennessee (8.9 percent); and West Virginia (8.9 percent).
“There’s a reason that prescription drugs are intended to be taken under the direction of a doctor: if used improperly they can be dangerous,” said a recent National Institute of Drug Abuse summary.
Abuse of prescription painkillers in general is not new. In fact, such abuse has risen 400 percent between 1998 and 2008.
But now it seems, our kids have made a startling discovery – that using prescription meds to get high – is too easy and too accessible. And it’s costing more of them their lives.