Teen abuse of prescription drugs stirs concern

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
One of every five teens has abused prescription pain medication, stimulants and/or tranquilizers.
Chairman Jeff Morris shared that statistic from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America at Tuesday’s meeting of the Community Child Protection Team, describing the problem as an epidemic in this country.
“I see it every day in court,” said Morris, a Salisbury attorney, “and the judges and DAs see it many more times daily.”
As of November 2008, North Carolina became one of 38 states with prescription-drug monitoring programs. But Morris said the system is not being used to highlight significant deviations regarding prescriptions and to identify “doctor shoppers,” patients who visit numerous doctors and pharmacists to obtain pharmaceutical controlled substances to either support their own addiction or resell prescription drugs on the streets.
“There are people who make a living going from pharmacy to pharmacy and doctor to doctor …” he said.
Though the computer database is available to all physicians and pharmacists, Morris said it’s not being used and questioned whether the information’s effect on potential pharmaceutical sales could be an issue. When the legislation was being considered, he said, doctors and pharmacists lobbied for the limited access to data.
Morris recommended that Community Child Protection Team members ask the Rowan Board of Social Services to assist them in holding a summit to highlight teen drug abuse of prescription medications. “Perhaps the DSS Board could decide to appoint a subcommittee to study changes that may be needed to the prescription drug monitoring programs laws in order to curb prescription medication abuse,” he said.
Morris said Rowan’s state legislators could be invited to participate in work sessions and perhaps encouraged to introduce legislation calling for stricter monitoring of prescriptions.
William Peoples said he thought Morris’ recommendation was a great idea. A lot of parents aren’t aware of the prevalence of prescription drug abuse among youths, he said.
Tim Smith, director of student services for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, said prescription drug abuse among students is on the rise. Ten middle school students were found with pharmaceutical-controlled substances on the same day, he said.
But instead of purchasing them from doctor shoppers, Smith said many students are getting the drugs from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets. Parents need to be as careful to keep their prescription drugs out of the reach of their children as they are liquor, he said.
Morris said group homes are required to keep their medicine cabinets locked. Social Services’ foster parents are also required to keep medicine cabinets locked.
Though no one wants more government regulations in the home, Morris said parents should be securing their prescription medications and alcohol. And weapons, said Capt. Kevin Auten of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
Smith said school officials are trying to educate parents about the increase in prescription drug abuse among students.
Morris said this might be a good topic for a Social Services community roundtable discussion next year.
Social Services board member Lillian Morgan said, “This is a very, very important issue and one that we need to address.”
In answer to a question about physicians and pharmacists not checking the database on prescriptions for controlled substances, Morris said it only takes about 30 seconds to see if a patient has received similar prescriptions from other doctors and pharmacies, even those in other counties.
Auten said there is better monitoring of over-the-county cold medicine than there is controlled substances.
Though Morris said he believes 99.1 percent of all physicians and pharmacists are honest, he noted that a pharmacy makes $400 on a prescription for OxyContin, a very potent and commonly abused pain medication. OxyContin is as addictive as heroin, he said, and can cause respiratory distress, even death, when ground up.
Auten said, “There are more people dying from this than crack ever killed.”
Morris said OxyContin pills sell on the streets for $40 apiece.
Peoples said the problem of people selling prescription drugs on the streets is going to get worse with the recent job losses.
Auten said Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, and Lortab, the brand name for the drug combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, are among the most popular prescription drugs among youth.
Smith said prescription drug abuse is even showing up in the elementary schools.
The Community Protection Team voted to recommend a subcommittee on prescription drug abuse among youth, and several volunteered to serve.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.