Where Is My Oxycontin?

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A governing board goal this year is to educate parents, students and the community about the prevalence and dangers of prescription drug abuse. 

As part of this effort, I am moving aside this week for an editorial by John Lemon. 

Mr. Lemon is one of the community representatives on my site council. He is also a former administrator. The information he provides is painful. However, I think it’s important that we, as a community, take an honest, open look at a problem we all face; not just in Payson but nationwide as well.

A parent opens the home medicine cabinet and notices that the OxyContin that six months ago was prescribed for pain is missing. Where could the pills be? Could his teenager have taken them? Could the “tabs” now be in the hands of children? Could they have been sold for $50 each?

Though a growing body of evidence is available, few adults are aware of the dangers and size of teenage abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. In fact, the problem is so serious and needs our attention.

In 2007, the National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a study entitled “Monitoring the Future.” 

The results of the study showed 7.2 percent of students in grade 10, and 9.5 percent of students in grade 12 had abused Vicodin. OxyContin was shown to have been abused by 3.9 percent of 10th-graders and 5.2 percent of 12th-graders in the year prior to the survey. Newer, perhaps more alarming local statistics are now available. 

To assess and measure the prevalence of substance abuse among students here in Arizona, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission conducted a survey of students in grades 8, 10 and 12.  The results are compiled in the 2008 Arizona Youth Survey, which includes 320 schools in 15 counties for a total sample of 54,374 responses.

Results provide a number of insights into teenage behavior on a statewide level. Up front it should be stated that alcohol remains by far the most abused substance. 

However, the increase in abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs throughout the state is particularly troubling.  Gila County is no exception. A more sobering conclusion is the date indicates that Gila County teenagers are displaying at-risk behaviors in numbers greater than their Arizona peers.

Responses from Gila County students in grade 10 indicate that abuse of prescription pain reducers, over-the-counter drugs and prescribed medications was greater than in other counties. 

Fully 13 percent admitted abuse of prescription drugs in the 30 days prior to the survey. In grade 12, Gila County student answers indicated that 14 percent had abused prescription drugs during the 30 days prior to the survey. Twelve percent abused prescription pain reducers, while 10 percent used over-the-counter.  In all three categories, students in Gila County were abusing at a level roughly 2 percent greater than peers in other counties.

What are the drugs being abused by our teens? The three most well-known categories are: stimulants, sedatives and pain relievers. Following are some examples:

• Stimulants:  Adderal, Dexedrine, Concerta, Ritalin

• Sedatives: Mebaral, Nembutal, Valium, Ambien, Sonata, Lunestra

• Pain relievers: Vicodin, OxyContin, Darvon, Dilaudid, Demerol, Lomotil, Morphine, Codeine (such as Tylenol 3)

 • The most common over-the-counter drug is DXM (dextromethorphan) which is the active ingredient in most cough suppressants. Another common over-the counter cold remedy is the drug pseudophedrine which is also an ingredient in “meth.”

Although the compounds named have different effects on the human organism, they are generally safe when prescribed and used under the supervision of a physician. When abused, these compounds can cause an array of potentially harmful effects.

 So, what can we do to help protect our teens? Firstly, open lines of communication with your teen. Teens can be extraordinarily forthcoming when they feel comfortable, safe and loved. Ask your teens about the degree of substance abuse including prescription drug abuse among their friends and acquaintances. Be aware that illicit drugs and medications have “street names” that your teen may be able to translate. Seek advice or assistance if answers indicate a problem that you are not comfortable handling.

Secondly, open your medicine cabinet and examine the contents. 

Dispose of unused drugs and keep only prescribed medications that you are currently using.  Don’t keep that half-full bottle of Vicodin from you root canal last year, just in case you think you might have future pain relief needs. 

Be aware that most of the time kids are getting these drugs from their own home or the home of a close relative.

Third, regularly survey your prescribed and over-the-counter drugs. Be aware of how many are in the bottle.

Fourth, lock your prescription and over-the-counter medications up. As well, remember, alcohol is a depressant and is dangerous as well as illegal for minors. Lock it up also.

 Finally, check the Arizona Youth Survey data on substance abuse at www.azcjc.gov. It will take all of us: parents, schools, medical professionals and law enforcement to effectively address this growing problem.

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