Jan 18 5:43 PM posted by Team Ricki
Friend of Ricki; Lynn Armitage:
The signs were there all along: muscle aches and pains, sweating, sleeping all hours of the day, mood swings, and aluminum foil and spoons gone missing. But the connection to drug addiction didn’t come soon enough for Sherrie Rubin, whose son Aaron started using prescription drugs while he was a sophomore at a San Diego high school. In and out of rehab for years, Aaron eventually overdosed on Oxycontin at a party when he was 23. Miraculously, he survived, but now Aaron is a quadriplegic who requires s 24-hour care and can no longer speak
“We didn’t know that addiction is a disease that needs to be maintained throughout your life. We thought, after seven months (of rehab), we had our son back and he was cured. Three weeks later, he was in a coma…and we were planning his funeral,” says Rubin, who founded HOPE2GETHER.ORG to help other families struggling with addiction. With Aaron in a wheelchair by her side, Rubin has become an outspoken advocate against the dangers of teen drug use.
Sadly, there are thousands more stories like the Rubins. Prescription drug addiction among teens has become an epidemic in this country. While we usually only hear about it when a celebrity is involved, here’s the ugly truth: Prescription drug addiction among teenagers is an equal opportunity destroyer. It moves like a black finger of death into every socioeconomic strata of society, right into our own homes, picking off the most vulnerable among us.
“Deaths from accidental drug overdoses now outnumber deaths from automobile accidents,” says Dr. Damon Raskin, an addiction medicine specialist at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center in California. “Kids are particularly vulnerable to addiction and overdoses because their brains aren’t fully developed, which leads them to make bad decisions.” He says most teens won’t fess up to having an addiction, because many of them don’t know that they do. “They don’t recognize the dangers of drugs, and particularly prescription drugs, which appear to be safe because oftentimes they come from their own medicine chest or a friend’s.”
While marijuana is still the most abused drug among young people, according to a study by Monitoring the Future, prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem and has been classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is three times deadlier than the cocaine epidemic from 1989-1993. But here’s the really bad news: More than a third of abusers of prescription drugs are between the ages of 12 and 17.
How does it all start?
Teens get sucked in to the prescription-drug world for a variety of reasons. Not surprisingly, peer pressure tops the list, but social media may be to blame, too. A study by CASAColumbia found that teens between 12 and 17 years old who have seen pictures on social-networking sites of kids getting drunk, passed out or using drugs, are likelier to smoke, drink or use drugs, too.
As teenagers are learning to become comfortable in their own skin, they have a tendency to want to experiment with many things, like sex and drugs. “They are often led to believe it is exciting and fun,” says Dr. Jason Jerry of the Cleveland Clinic, “and if they don’t do it, they will be the oddball shunned from the social circle.”
Add to this dangerous cocktail of peer pressure the stress to get good grades, join clubs, lose weight, hook up, bulk up and be exceptional enough to get into a good college, and it’s easy to see why some teens might turn to stimulants, steroids or Xanax to cope with it all.
Parents, be careful: Your children are learning from you, too. “If parents or older siblings use drugs or have permissive attitudes toward drug use, teens are more likely to use drugs, too” says Dr. Rick Meeves, Director of Clinical Services for Adolescents, CRC Health Group in Cupertino, California. It doesn’t help matters that 2.1 million children younger than 18 live with a parent who has a drug problem, based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The Medicine Cabinet: Public Enemy No. 1
Every day, 2,500 teenagers use a prescription drug to get high for the first time, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. So where are these kids getting all these drugs? Look no further than your own home.
“The number one source of drugs that teenagers abuse is their home medicine cabinet," said Steve Pasierb, CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org. "Kids tell us in surveys that there is enough supply at home and at grandma's house that they don't have to buy them."
The National Community Pharmacists Association reports that an estimated 200 million pounds of unused prescriptions are abandoned in our medicine cabinets, creating a pharmacological candy store for teen addicts.
To further compound the problem, teen addicts who can no longer depend on the medicine cabinet at home for a fix, turn to the streets to buy their prescription drugs. These drugs prove to be too expensive for most teen budgets, and those who don’t steal money or jewelry from their parents to support their habits transition into the seedy world of heroin because it’s a much cheaper way to get high.
In an effort to create awareness of this astounding problem, the Medicine Abuse Project was created in concert with Partnership at drugfree.org. This awareness campaign was launched in September, and their goal is to cut teen medicine abuse in half within five years. But its organizers claim that two things need to happen first: One, parents must safeguard their medications at home. Two, they need to talk to their children about the dangers of prescription drugs.
The Medicine Abuse Project website contains eye-opening, helpful information on prevention and resources, as well as personal stories from other parents that you can read about here.
The Locking Cap
Out of adversity, heroes are born – and sometimes inventions. Twenty-three-year-old Joseph Simpson of Lincoln, California, watched his younger brother, Stephen, fight valiantly through his addiction to pain pills –and eventually win. Stephen was just 17 when he became hooked on prescription meds prescribed to him for an injury.
Hoping to save other families from the nightmare endured by his family, Simpson, only 18 at the time, delved passionately into research to learn more about the insidious trend of teen drug addiction. “I noticed that a huge part of the problem wasn’t that teens were taking the drugs, it was parents who habitually provide ease of access to prescriptions,” says Simpson. “I went to several of my friends’ parent’s houses and asked to use the restroom and was often granted access to private medicine cabinets where prescriptions of all kinds were readily available.”
This light bulb moment inspired him to create “The Locking Cap,” a replacement safety top for pill bottles and vials that comes with a four-digit combination code. If you don’t know the code, you can’t take the pills.
Though the patent is pending on The Locking Cap, Simpson has been working “100-hour weeks” marketing his invention to retailers. So far, a handful of stores in California are sold on the idea, including SaveMart, Lucky and Ralphs. Costco and Walmart are also expected to start selling The Locking Cap soon.
Education is the best prevention
It’s a scary world out there for teenagers, whose brains aren’t fully developed, facing mounting peer pressure to let loose, have fun and fit in. As much as parents would like to keep vigil over their children 24/7, it’s simply unrealistic and not healthy for these blossoming young adults. A parent’s job isn’t to clip a teenager’s wings, but rather, to grow them.
Many experts in teen substance abuse agree that the best weapon in fighting this epidemic is education. According to Partnership for a Drug-Free America, kids who learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use than those who do not.
Kim Box wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s really important for parents to talk to their kids not only about how substance abuse is bad for them, but how it affects their brain. Help them understand that once they alter the chemistry of their brain, they’ll have that addiction for life.” With education as their rallying cry, Box and a group of Northern California moms on a mission started Pathway To Prevention, an organization dedicated to teaching teens and parents about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction.
But how could they pack the most powerful punch? “We decided to create a documentary called ‘Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic,’” says Box, the group’s executive director. The 30-minute film, produced by Emmy-winning producer Joyce Mitchell and director Ted Ross, takes viewers into the trenches of teen addiction through the eyes of teens, parents and medical experts. The $125,000 documentary, funded by grants and donations, premiered on KVIE-6, a public television station in Sacramento, and won an Emmy award this year.
Since winning an Emmy, “Collision Course” has been aired more than 100 times in multiple cities across the country. “It’s getting very high ratings,” says Box. What’s really exciting is the feedback they’re getting from families. Box tells the story of a 12-year-old girl whose friends came to school drunk and she disassociated herself from them. “She told her dad, ‘I saw that documentary and I don’t want to do that. I know what can happen.’”
Mission accomplished, says Box. “That’s EXACTLY what we wanted!” She is also the co-founder ParentPathway.com, an online community to help parents who have children struggling with addiction. The website offers information on how to deal with addiction, tools and resources, an “Ask the Expert” section and uplifting stories of hope.
You can watch “Collision Course” online at KVIE.org.
Lynn Armitage is a syndicated columnist, writer, blogger, entrepreneur, former editor and radio news producer. She began her writing career in Fourth Grade when she was asked this question on a test: “Where is President Nixon right now?” The correct answer was, “In China.” Lynn drew a complete blank, but threw the dice and responded with, “In love,” earning her five extra bonus points. Lynn had found her life’s work. She is a single mom who lives in Northern California with the last teenage daughter left in the house.