What’s Killing Our Kids

Today I am thrilled to pass along this guest post from my friend Mark Woodward of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. Mark is the Public Information and Education Officer at the OBN and is a man that knows what he is talking about. Mark is on the front lines fighting this epidemic of addiction everyday, either on school campuses or at the Capitol Building. Read this, pass it on or share it. Every family needs to know this information.

It’s not ugly like the interior of a typical meth home.  It doesn’t generate the violence of a street corner dope deal gone bad.  So rarely will you see it making headlines or featured on the 6 o’clock news.  But prescription fraud and abuse has rapidly become one of the largest drug problems in the United States.  According to White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in terms of the number of abusers, the illicit use of prescription medication is the second biggest drug problem in our nation behind marijuana.  When you break down the numbers quoted by U.S. Drug Czar John Walters, there’s an estimated 87,000 Oklahomans addicted to prescription drugs.  

At the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, I read roughly 25 autopsy reports each month on drug-related deaths.  Of those, only about 20 percent are tied to illegal “ street” narcotics.  Approximately 80 percent are prescription drug overdoses.  When I receive calls from Oklahoma schools about drugs confiscated on campus, 8 out of 10 of those instances don’t involve street drugs, but rather mom and dad’s pain pills or grandma’s Xanax that the kids have lifted right out of their own home—a trend teens refer to as “pharming”.  One-third of our agency (OBN’s Diversion Division) is devoted full-time to the regulation and investigation of medical professionals and the illicit dispensing of controlled drugs.  And their caseloads have been escalating, daily.

Many parents worry about their teens getting involved with marijuana or alcohol.  But what most parents don’t realize is that many of the substances kids target are already found in their own home.  Teens are stealing, or  “pharming” pills from their own home.  Many teens believe using prescription drugs is a safe high because they see their own parents or grandparents taking these drugs every day.  They don’t understand that many pharmaceutical drugs are as dangerous or deadly as illegal street drugs like heroin, meth or cocaine.  Some kids may also sell these pills in order to buy alcohol, marijuana or other illicit drugs.  There is also a growing trend of teens attending “pharm” parties, “pill” parties or “salad” parties in which stolen prescription drugs are placed in a bowl and eaten like candy during these events.  Teens call it “trail mix.”  We have seen increasing overdoses and deaths among teens in Oklahoma over the past several years from combining prescription drugs with other pills, alcohol and illegal substances often available at these parties, concerts or clubs.

If you need prescription drugs, please safeguard them.  Lock them up!  Don’t keep them in an unlocked medicine cabinet in the home.  That is the first place a teen, relative or neighbor will look for drugs if they are trying to feed an addiction.  If you don’t need them, dispose of them immediately.  You don’t want to live with the guilt if someone overdosed from old, unwanted or expired drugs taken from your home that you should have trashed months or years ago.  Our agency has installed 173 drug disposal boxes in police and sheriff’s department lobbies throughout the state of Oklahoma.  Bag up your old, unwanted pills and dump them in an OBN Disposal Box on your way to work or when you are out running errands.  Since 2011, OBN has collected nearly 40 tons of home medication and safely disposed them before they could reach the streets or schools.  You can find an OBN Drug Disposal Box near your community by visiting our web site at www.ok.gov/obndd  and look for the Rx Disposal Box tab.

And it’s not just prescription drugs kids’ seek.  Over-the-counter cough and cold medications that contain Dextromethorphan (DXM) are also being abused in increasing numbers by teens.  Ingesting large quantities of DXM pills or cough syrup can produce the same effect as smoking marijuana and using hallucinogens like LSD.  This practice can be very dangerous and addictive.  Along those same lines, teen are continuing to sniff or “huff” inhalants such as gasoline, spray paint and other aerosols that are commonly found in the home and can be used to produce a euphoric intoxication.  Kids frequently fail to see the dangers of any product that is sold over-the-counter and found in their own home.  This leads many to believe these products are not as dangerous as abusing true street drugs.  Recently, a 13-year old Oklahoma teen died from “huffing” Freon from a neighbor’s air conditioning unit outside their home.  Not long after his son’s death, the father checked his son’s computer history which showed his son had been watching videos uploaded to the internet demonstrating how to disconnect Freon lines on A/C units and “huff” the chemical.  It is critical that parents understand any substance that can produce lightheadedness, dizziness, or euphoria is a likely target for kids and should be safe-guarded in the home.  Parents should also monitor their teen’s internet history to see if they are visiting web sites that show how to use drugs or contain information on where to buy drugs.  Web sites teens visit often reflect what the teen is into or interested in learning more about, including new ways to get “high”.

To truly combat drug abuse, we must approach the problem with a 3-prong solution.  The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics will continue to work toward arresting those who profit from selling this poison that is killing our kids and wrecking our communities.  But we are also partnering with agencies around the state to increase treatment and recovery options to help those struggling with addiction.  And the third prong involves education.  OBN has expanded the number of instructors visiting schools to provide drug education for students, teachers, parents and the public.  We are also urging parents to do more to educate themselves and their children about the growing dangers of street drugs and products in the home.  If we can raise kids to be drug-free, they often become drug-free adults who share these values and attitudes with their children, thus reversing the increasing cycle of addiction.

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Also, if you’re family is struggling with an addiction issue I’d like to invite you to a family support group class hosted by Hope is Alive Ministries. It’s specifically for loved ones of addicts. Find out more and sign up here: www.FindingHope.Today

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