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  -- Teen Opiate Abuse

 Kids and Community
 Vicodin and OxyCondin Abuse
 By Judy Shepps Battle
Gregory House is a brilliant medical doctor with a powerful addiction to prescription pain killers. Vicodin is his primary drug of choice, with a pill-popping intake that far exceeds prescribed standards for a legitimate chronic physical pain. While otherwise maintaining an impeccable professional exterior, he lies, cheats, and steals to obtain and maintain his stash.
Codependent colleagues unconsciously enable his behavior by denying its seriousness. Some write frequent Vicodin prescriptions; others look the other way when blank prescription pads disappear. Houses rude behavior  even with patients -- is written off as eccentricity; his colleagues focus on his ability to help patients recover, rather than on his addictive illness.
It is not until an offended patient (who is also a police detective) suspects addiction and begins legal investigation that it becomes clear how far Houses drug habit has progressed. At his lowest point, House fills a prescription written for a patient (now deceased) for the opiate OxyContin and nearly overdoses by combining excessive amounts of this medication with alcohol.
Although the above is a fictional story  you can catch "House" on the Fox Network on Tuesdays  there are an estimated 4.4 million Americans, 12 years or older, who report abusing prescription pain relievers. For OxyContin alone, the estimated increase in use for this group from 2002 to 2004 was nearly 50 percent (from 1.9 million in 2002 to 3.1 million in 2004).
Most tragic is that an increasing percentage of this group is teens who do not perceive prescription drugs as potentially dangerous.
Experimenting with Danger
The 2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey reveals alarming rates of experimentation with Vicodin and OxyContin by our nation's teens:
" Annual Vicodin use (defined as use at least once in the year prior to the survey) was considerably higher than for OxyContin, at 3 percent among 8th graders, 7 percent among 10th graders, and 9.7 percent among 12th graders.
" Annual OxyContin use is 2.6 percent for 8th graders, 3.8 percent for 10th graders, and 4.4 percent for 12th graders.
" There is a continuing pattern of higher abuse rates of OxyContin and Vicodin among males (as compared with females) in the 12th grade.
Compounding the risks of abusing OxyContin and Vicodin separately (physical dependence, tolerance, and painful withdrawal) is the practice of "pharming," where young people mix prescription medications and ingest some or all of them at once, unaware of potentially severe drug interactions.
Opportunity and Motive
How is 1 of every 10 high school seniors able to obtain Vicodin? How can 1 of every 25 middle-school students acquire OxyContin? Although the Internet is an outlaw source of these drugs, most kids find their supply much closer to home.
 A recent Partnership for a Drug-Free America study indicates that 62 percent of teens believe prescription pain relievers are "easy" to find at home. One of every two interviewees said such prescription drugs are "available everywhere."
Where is everywhere? In many families, legally prescribed drugs can be found in the bathroom medicine cabinet, in Mom's purse, in Dad's dresser drawer, or in the hall closet, where half-used prescription vials tend to accumulate.
The simplest -- and perhaps most effective -- step toward providing for our kids' safety is for parents to make access to the family prescription drug supply difficult for kids. This may include putting current drugs under lock and key, as well as remembering to dispose of drugs no longer being used.
"It's Not Harmful"
An important additional factor contributing to teen abuse of pain medicine is the mistaken belief that because these drugs are prescribed by doctors that they are not as harmful as unregulated, illegal street drugs.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America study reports that 40 percent of respondents believe prescription medicines are "much safer" than illegal drugs, while 31 percent say there is "nothing wrong" with using prescription drugs "once in a while." The study further found that 29 percent of teens believe prescription pain relievers are non-addictive.
These findings suggest that education in this area is sorely needed, both for parents and kids.
Finding the Teachable Moment
While I am sure that schools will do their part by including prescription pain relievers as one more type of drug to which students should "just say no," academic programs are not enough. Community-wide efforts must supplement even the best curriculum.
This means pediatricians need to take the lead in educating parents and kids during annual well-child checkups. It means pharmacists should include literature with prescriptions that suggests the ways that parents can decrease easy access to prescribed drugs. It means parents must educate themselves -- and their children -- about the dangers of any illegal drug use and have regular family conversations on this topic.
The task is clear; the time to take steps -- more than ever before -- is now.  

Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com.

Copyright 2007 Judy Shepps Battle


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