For many in the area, the statistics regarding prescription drug abuse and overdoses is both overwhelming and unbelievable.
The epidemic has forced schools to hire resource officers and perform random drug testing on students to help administrators combat the growing problem. Law enforcement and medical professionals are dealing with this crisis on a daily basis in the form of increased crime, overdoses and prison overcrowding. This epidemic effects everyone, either directly or indirectly and knows no socioeconomic background or racial stereotypes.
While methamphetamine is still a huge problem, according to the United States Drug Enforcement (DEA) Web site, prescription drugs are the overwhelming drug of choice for teens and young adults.
According to the DEA, there has been an 80 percent increase in prescription drug abuse over the last six years. Nearly 7 million Americans are abusing prescription drugs. Amazingly, this is more than the number who abuse cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and inhalants, combined.
Headlines that involve crimes committed by those on prescription drugs in the Sharp County area have became more and more dominant.
Recently, a break-in occurred near Highland involving the theft of several prescriptions. For various reasons, the trend has started to lean toward prescription drug abuse and in a younger and younger crowd.
Information obtained from the theantidrug.com Web site states that prescription drugs are the most abused type of drugs between the ages of 12-17, the years when addiction is most probable to become a long term problem. Teens mistakenly think that the drugs are safer than street drugs because they are prescribed by medical professionals.
The reasons teens abuse these drugs are as varied as the drugs they abuse. For many, the reason may not be to get high or fit in, but to concentrated and make better grades in school, to compete for scholarships, as one young girl who wishes to remain anonymous stated. Others use the drugs to help with sleep or anxiety.
Statistics published on parents the anti-drug Web site state that young girls are more likely to abuse prescription drugs than boysand also have a higher rate of dependence. A number of national studies and published reports affirm the growing problem and one third of teens interviewed for these studies believe that because they were prescribed, the drugs were safe for use.
Third Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce said that his office has seen an increase in criminal cases involving various types of prescription drugs, whether it be crimes committed while under the influence of these drugs or theft and possession charges related to the use of the drugs.
Boyce said he believes the increase in prescription drug abuse versus methamphetamine abuse may be due to a number of contributing factors including the passage of Act 256.
Act 256 made it harder for those attempting to manufacture methamphetamine to obtain pseudoephedrine, a vital ingredient in the drug. The law went into effect in Arkansas March 25, 2005, after extensive lobbying in an attempt to control the distribution of the ingredients used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The Act made ephedrine based products such as pseudoephedrine Schedule V controlled substances. Pharmacies record the sale of these products and anyone who purchases more than nine grams in a month is red flagged and the pharmacy can no longer sell the person the medications.
Many teens who abuse drugs at a young age are much more likely to become addicted than those who begin using drugs later in life.
These drugs include mostly pain, anti-depression, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic drugs under the brand names of oxycontin, vicodin, zanax and hydrocodone as well as cough and cold medications.
Statistics on the antidrug Web site, as well as Center's for Disease Control say nearly 47 percent of teens who use prescription drugs that are not prescribed to them say they get them from friends or relatives. More than three in five say they can easily buy them if they are not available in a parent, family member or friend's medicine cabinet.
The availability of less expensive drugs from internet pharmacies is also a very viable option for teens who want to purchase these drugs. By visiting an online pharmacy, a person is asked to fill in personal information and be contacted by a "licensed physician." After the doctor contacts the potential patient by phone, the drugs are as good as theirs, after shipment.
Many parents either choose to ignore the problem or, more often, are ignorant of the signs of abuse and ways to help the teen get treatment.
Some of the signs that may lead a parent to face their child's drug abuse include such things as constricted pupils, slurred speech or flushed skin. Parents should be alert to the following: personality changes, mood swings, irritability, excessive energy, sleepiness or avoiding sleep, sweating, loss of appetite, forgetfulness or clumsiness.
Parents the antidrug Web site offers parents advice such as watching for missing pills, unfamiliar pills, or empty cough and cold medicine bottles or packages. If your teen has been prescribed a prescription the site suggests keeping control of the bottle. Parents should also be alert if their teen is running out of pills quickly, losing pills or requesting refills.
Other signs might include secretiveness, loss of interest in personal appearance, borrowing money or having extra cash, skipping classes, or not doing well in school.
If a parent finds out their teen is abusing drugs, getting the needed help is vital. There are a number of support groups, both private and church based for parents as well as numerous rehabilitation options that can be explored.
According to a local teen who admitted to abusing prescription drugs in the past to fit in says, "The teens of today are tomorrow's future leaders and sometimes the everyday stresses of life may cause them to go down the wrong path, but we still need help even if we don't act like it."