Prescription Drug Epidemic Impacts Rim Country Family

A daughter’s screams awaken mother to prescription drug abuse

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When Melissa Cochran woke up Sept. 2 to her eldest daughter’s screams, she never imagined what she would find.

On the bathroom floor lay her 16-year-old daughter, slumped over and unresponsive.

“I went into her bathroom and there she was on the floor, blue, blue, blue,” she said.

Cochran grabbed her daughter, threw water on her face and yelled at her to wake up, but her daughter did not respond beyond a gargle for breath.

With her son’s help, Cochran dragged the girl into the bathtub and threw more water on her.

When that didn’t work, they rushed her to the Payson hospital.

There, doctors worked quickly.

Twice, Cochran said she heard doctors yell code blue, generally used to indicate a patient needs resuscitation.

But then suddenly, her daughter awoke — throwing up and gasping for breath.

Cochran’s daughter had overdosed. Overdosed on prescription drugs reportedly injected into her by a friend.

Gila County Narcotics Task Force officials say the abuse of prescription drugs has reached epidemic proportions in Rim Country.

Terry Phillips, a task force agent with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said prescription drug abuse poses a danger, especially among young adults and kids.

After friends or drug dealers give or sell them the drugs, many teens melt it down and inject it.

Police arrested Jordan Fowler, 22, for allegedly injecting Cochran’s daughter. Fowler now faces charges of injecting a minor with drugs and other felony counts.

Fowler was to appear in court at 9 a.m. Friday and remains in jail on a $50,000 bond.

Fowler reportedly told officers she got the prescription pills from a family member.

Research shows most teenagers who abuse prescription drugs get them free from a friend or relative.

Besides marijuana and alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused substances by those 14 and older, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Nora Volkow, director of the institute, said an estimated 52 million — 20 percent of those aged 12 and older — have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once.

“Moreover, a consumer culture amenable to ‘taking a pill for what ails you’ and the perception of prescription drugs as less harmful than illicit drugs are other likely contributors to the problem,” she said.

Most startlingly, unintentional overdose deaths involving opiate pain relievers like Cochran’s daughter used have quadrupled in the last 13 years.

In 2007, those deaths outnumbered heroin and cocaine-related deaths.

Cochran’s daughter was almost another statistic.

Cochran said she is angry teens have such easy access to these drugs, that adults enable that access and the system provides so little support for families or children.

Phillips said most parents don’t report their child’s overdose because they worry they will get in trouble or they abuse drugs themselves.

Cochran admits she was once an addict, but has been sober 23 years.

Cochran says her daughter knew all about her struggles with substance abuse, but she hoped her daughter had learned from her mistakes.

What started as a one-time thing with a friend quickly turned into an addiction for her daughter, she says.

Cochran said her daughter, an otherwise good kid that attends school and works part-time, got mixed up when she started hanging out with Fowler a year ago.

Cochran said she initially told Fowler to stay away from her daughter and she believed her daughter had ended their friendship.

“I have been fighting this for a year,” she said. “I thought she was done.”

Then a month ago, when Cochran confronted her daughter about her friendship with Fowler, the teen grew angry.

“She knew I was on to her, that she was becoming addicted,” she said.

But Cochran didn’t totally reel her daughter in. When her daughter asked her if she could hang out with friends after work Sept. 2, Cochran relented.

When the girl returned home around midnight, Cochran sensed something off kilter.

“But she said she was just tired,” Cochran said.

Then about 1 a.m., Cochran’s older daughter found the 16-year-old unconscious in the bathroom, her eyes rolled back in her head.

Fortunately, doctors saved the girl.

Later, she told Cochran that Fowler had given her Percocet, an opioid, is known to cause drowsiness, constipation and sometimes depressed breathing. The latter effect makes opioids dangerous, especially when snorted, injected or combined with other drugs or alcohol, according to NIDA.

Toxicology reports show Cochran’s daughter had opiates and marijuana in her system when she overdosed.

It was not the first time the girl had reportedly used drugs with Fowler. “This is the third time they had done something like this.”

Cochran said she feels enormous guilt and wonders if she could have protected her daughter.“I should have been more aware of what my kid was doing,” she admits. “But I work, I do the best that I can with what I got.”

Cochran is determined to help other parents and teens struggling with drug abuse.

“Prescription drugs are just horrible in this community,” she said. “I want to start an organization for moms like us. So, they are not afraid to come and speak up. We need coping skills, we need to know there is support.”

Sadly, many teens believe prescription drugs are less dangerous than illegal drugs when they’re actually potentially both addictive and deadly — especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol.

Phillips said in his 28 years in law enforcement, he’s seen the use of certain drugs wane and then resurge.

Recently, black tar heroin use has increased in Payson. But he notes that both prescription pills and marijuana are often precursors for its use.

Most of the teens Phillips talks to say they get prescription pills from friends or steal them from their parents or grandparents.

In a national survey, 70 percent of 12th-graders using narcotics said a friend or relative gave it to them, according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future study by the University of Michigan.

Phillips said many young adults who hand out the drugs in Payson get their supply from drug dealers from the Valley. Phillips said they don’t see the mass shipments of drugs in Payson like you do in the Valley or even Globe.

“A lot of good kids are doing it on an experimental basis and winding up in the ER”.

To report drug activity to the task force, call (928) 474-0728. Callers can remain anonymous.

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