Prescription drugs, teens shouldn't mix

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Six teens arrested at high school for public intoxication last week

By Stephen Lega

Three 17-year-olds, two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old were arrested Sept. 14 at Marion County High School on charges of public intoxication.

One of the 17-year-olds is facing additional charges of possession of a controlled substance, prescription controlled substance not in its original container and trafficking in a controlled substance within 1,000 yards of a school. Another of the 17-year-olds was also charged with possession of a controlled substance and prescription controlled substance not in its original container.

"Marion County Public Schools have zero tolerance for drugs," high school principal Taylora Schlosser said.

The issue of recreational prescription drug use is not limited to the high school, or teenagers for that matter, but in this case, a high school staff member noticed some unusual behavior, which led to the investigation and subsequent arrests.

Across the state and across the nation, recreational use of prescription drugs is on the rise. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, teens and preteens are using prescription medications to get high frequently.

Unfortunately, the arrests are not surprising, according to Jennifer Osbourne, the community health educator with the Marion County Health Department.

"Teenagers are abusing prescription drugs more than they are abusing cocaine or [methamphetamines]," Osbourne said. "It's because access is easier for them."

In 2005, 850,000 12-17-year-olds reported that they had started to use prescription drugs in the previous year. That same year, 2.1 million teens were reported to have abused prescription drugs.

According to a 2006 survey, nearly one in five teens (19 percent) reported abusing prescription medicine, and 31 percent reported that they believed there was nothing wrong with using prescription drugs without a prescription once in a while.

Just as significant, about half of teens who used prescription drugs recreationally reported that they got them free from a relative or a friend. More than 60 percent said drugs were easy to get from their parents' medicine cabinets.

Oxycotin and Vicodin are the prescription drugs most commonly used by teens, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In the recent arrests at the high school, the students were found in possession of a generic version of Xanax, according to Wally Brady, the Lebanon Police Department's school resource officer.

Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety and

panic disorders, according to medicinenet.com. It produces a calming effect by working on the brain and central nervous system. The side effects can include mood changes, slurred speech, clumsiness and trouble walking.

Regardless of what drugs are being taken, any prescription drug can be harmful.

"Any prescription drug is dangerous if you take it in a way it's not prescribed, especially if it's not prescribed for you," said Phil McCreary, a pharmacist at Spring View Hospital.

Even something that won't produce a high, such as blood pressure medication, can be risky for someone who doesn't need it.

"Their blood pressure could drop, and they could end up in the E.R.," McCreary said.

In addition to taking drugs without a prescription, the complications can be compounded if a person takes a dose larger than what is recommended.

"It only takes one time to take too much and it's over," Osbourne said.

The risks of taking non-prescribed drugs can also increase if someone takes different types of medications at the same time.

Osbourne also cited the public service announcement running on television as an example of another kind of risk. In the commercial, a teenager has a collection of medications in a tin, and he describes where he got each one. According to Osbourne, this mix of medications is sometimes referred to as "Skittles" since prescription drugs often come in a variety of colors.

McCreary agreed that mixing medications poses other dangers for the user.

"Almost all drugs have a potential for death when used in the wrong way, especially when they are combined with others," he said, "That's why they are regulated by law and health care professionals."

There are other potential consequences of using prescription drugs recreationally. Lee Talley has seen those effects in her job as the director of the substance abuse program at Marion County Detention Center.

Talley said the jailer conducted an informal survey of the inmates in the substance abuse program to find out how long they'd been using drugs.

"Most of them started around 12 years old," Talley said.

She added that there is a trend among the younger generation to increasingly turn to prescription medications to get high.

Addiction to prescription drugs can lead to many of the same behaviors seen among addicts of illicit drugs - such as committing other crimes to feed that addiction - and that can lead to jail or prison time.

That's something Talley wants teenagers to avoid. To that end, she encouraged parents to take an active role in preventing drug use.

"We have enough business here," Talley said. "We don't need their kids, too."

Because drugs are widely used, users can get them in a variety of places - their own home, their grandparents home, their neighbors, even their friends' homes. Talley said it's important for people who have prescriptions to think about where they keep them and to be aware of how many doses they have used. Likewise, she said the drugs should be disposed of properly, instead of being left unused on a shelf or in a drawer.

McCreary agreed, and he encouraged anyone with expired and unused medications to take them to a pharmacist.

"Any pharmacy will help you dispose of them," he said.

He discouraged people from flushing drugs down the toilet, however.

"One person flushing them isn't going to make a difference, but if everyone does it, it can affect the water supply," McCreary said.

Fighting misuse of prescription medication involves many people, particularly parents and grandparents, to be aware and be involved.

Talley said knowing where your children are and who they are hanging out with is important.

"Be nosy," she said.

She added that she knows some people will raise concerns about letting their kids have a private life, but Talley doesn't agree when drug use and drug use prevention are involved.

"It's not an invasion of their privacy," she said. "It's an issue of their safety."

  Info box: Teens and prescription drugs

A variety of resources are available online for parents and grandparents interested in prevention prescription drug abuse by teenagers.

  Here are some tips from www.theantidrug.com: - Keep prescription medications in a locked cabinet. - Dispose of drugs properly.

- Take unused medications to a pharmacy or crush the drugs, mix them with kitty litter and put the mix in a bag before disposing of it. (Drugs should not be flushed down the toilet.) Also, remove labels from bottles with identifying information before disposing of them.

- Keep track of your medication. Knowing how many pills you were prescribed and how many you've taken will help you know if any are missing.

- Talk to your teenager. Talk to them about the risks of prescription medications.

- Be aware of changes in behavior. Be aware of mood changes, increased secretiveness, trouble in school or withdrawal from friends and family.

- Know your children's friends.   More information is available here:   Partnership for a Drug Free America www.drugfree.org   Above the Influence campaign www.abovetheinfluence.com   Office of National Drug Control Policy www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/prescr_drg_abuse.html   Parents: The Anti-drug www.theantidrug.com   The National Institute on Drug Abuse