Prescription Pill Problems In Suburbia On Rise
The abuse of prescription pain killers and anti-anxiety medications has increased in recent years, leading to a rise in teen use of OxyContin, Xanax and Valium, and an upsurge in drug-related deaths, according to the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation's report on Prescription Pills and Heroin Abuse released this month. The 74-page report details the growing prescription drug trade, its migration into suburbia and the proliferation of use among high school students.
The reality of this dangerous drug problem hit close to home last week when Wyckoff police arrested a 16-year-old Wyckoff teen in possession of $10,000 worth of prescription pills. According to a report in Wyckoff Patch, the accused was caught selling drugs at Sicomac Elementary School and was found to have 315 oxycodone pills between 5 and 80 milligrams a piece in his possession.
“Addiction to this drug is at an all time high, and addicts will stop at nothing to get what they need,” Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox told Patch. “The fact that a 16 year old boy is in possession of such a high quantity of the drug further demonstrates the market there is to obtain these pills. Parents need to be very concerned if they suspect that their children may be taking or selling these narcotics.”
From Pills to Heroin Addiction
For teens, prescription pill use is a quick, discreet way to get high or take the edge off. Pills are easy to hide and can be taken without leaving a suspicious trail or smell. However, teen abuse of prescription medication carries a greater risk of addiction.
Research shows adolescent brains exposed to the painkiller oxycondone can sustain lifelong and permanent changes in their reward system, making them more susceptible to addiction. "Adolescents who abuse prescription painkillers may be tuning their brains to a lifelong battle with opiate addiction if they re-expose themselves to the drug as adults,” reports Mary Jeanne Kreek, MD, an addiction researcher at Rockefeller University. "The neurobiological changes seem to sensitize the brain to the drug’s powerfully rewarding properties.”
Furthermore, prescription pills such as oxycodone are a "gateway drug" that leads to heroin use. "To put it bluntly, today's young Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin users are becoming tomorrow's heroin junkies," Commission Chair Patrick Hobbs told nj.com during the investigative hearings.
The Commission's report shows drug overdose deaths increase by 20 percent between 2010 and 2011, the latest figures available. In 2010, there were 843 drug-related deaths, 402 of which were attributed solely to prescription drugs and another 180 caused by a mix of prescription pills and other substances. In 2011, with 1,008 deaths reported, three-quarters of which involved prescription pills.
Talk To Your Kids About Drugs
Midland Park Press talked with Midland Park Public Schools Student Assistance Counselor Craig Rush to get advice for parents about having the important talk with your children about prescription pills.
"Prescription pills are readily available in medicine cabinets, so parents need to discuss the dangers of prescription medication with their children beginning at a very young age," Rush said. "This is a dialogue that must continue through adolescence."
How to get the conversation started? Rush advises using teachable moments, such as Glee star Cory Monteith's recent death from heroin or the news about the Wyckoff teen's drug arrest, to talk to your children about drug prevention.
"It is always vitally important to discuss the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse with your children," he said. "Parents need to be very careful to monitor and inventory prescription medication and store it in locations that are childproof.
"Prescription medication must also be removed from access by teenagers," he said. "Prescription medication and the liquor cabinet can become a high risk proposition for the curious adolescent."
When it comes to adolescent substance abuse, parents should always look for a change in behavior and attitude, Rush explained. "Secretive behavior, change in friendships, lying about whereabouts, stealing and problems in school might indicate substance abuse."
Additional signs of prescription pill use includes drowsiness, spacing-out, slurred speech, lack of coordination, memory problems, confusion and a drunken appearance. If you suspect your child is currently under the influence of a controlled substance, you should call 911 or take your child to the emergency room, Rush added.
"If a parent is concerned that their child might be using prescription medication or any other substances, the important thing is not to ignore it," he said. "Addiction is a progressive disease. The earlier a parent intervenes in an adolescent substance abuse problem, the sooner an adolescent may have the opportunity to address the issue."
If you have questions or concerns about you child related to prescription medication or any other issue, parents can speak confidentially with Mr. Rush. He can be reached at Crush@midlandparkschools.k12.nj.us or at 201-444-7400 x 206 (please leave a message).
Rush can provide parents with resources in the vicinity to provide an assessment for an adolescent. The assessment, performed by a licensed clinician, will help a parent determine the nature of the concern and provide a recommended treatment plan to address the concern.