By Sari Harrar
Prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin and Valium are the killer new teen high. One in six teens say they’ve taken a prescription drug at least once in the past year just for kicks. One in 11 are drug-dependent and another one in five show signs of dependence, one new study says. But while kids swipe pills from medicine cabinets and purses, trade them at school or pluck them from bowls at “pharma parties,” parents are often clueless. We don’t think it can happen to our kids, so we say little, miss early warning signs and fumble opportunities to educate and protect our kids.
During October and November, the Healthy Kids blog will look at this issue through the stories of former teen prescription-drug users now in recovery, their parents and local addiction-recovery experts working to treat addicted teens and help parents prevent this under-the-radar and illicit drug use.
Yesterday, Justina McIntyre described how her son Ronnie Powell, 19, a Souderton High School graduate, died in 2008 after overdosing on prescription painkillers drugs. McIntyre went on to co-found the group One Life One Chance. Today she talks about what parents should know and do to help protect their kids and communities.
“After Ronnie died his friends started coming to the house to talk,” McIntyre says. “They opened up about what was happening in families and how they were getting the pills. My husband and I decided we needed to do something about this. Some parents who’ve lost a child to prescription-drug abuse and overdoses handle it differently -- they’re angry, devastated, don’t want to talk. That’s fine. Everyone’s different. But talking helps me. I remind people that Ronnie was so much more than the drugs that took his life. When he walked in the house, the house came alive. He made everybody laugh. He was warm and welcoming. The drugs took him away.”
McIntyre says parents should take early experimenting with alcohol and marijuana seriously. “It’s the gateway,” she says. “You’re at a party, you’re drunk or high and you’re not going to use good judgment if somebody brings out the pills. And the younger you start, the bigger the chances for dependence. I’ve read that early drinking increases the risk for alcohol dependence tremendously -- and I think the same is true for drugs.”
Parents, she says, should also be aware that finding drugs at home, in school and in the community is easier than they might think. “They just put two doctors from our community into jail who were putting thousands of pain pills out on the street. Adults then sell the pills to kids. If you look at the number of pain-killer prescriptions being written these days, you know it’s not all being taken by people with chronic pain problems. There’s something else going on -- a doctor in Indiana was recently arrested for writing 91,000 prescriptions in three years. Prescription drug abuse rose 400% between 1998 and 2008. This stuff is just too easy to get.”
But it’s not just for sale. It’s also waiting in medicine cabinets and purses, too. “I know now that Ronnie also took pills from his grandfather’s medicine cabinet,” McIntyre says. “The first thing parents should do is lock up medications at home. You have to do everything you can.”