Prescription drug abuse growing concern at schools
A fellow student asked Courtney Griffin if she would sell her pills that treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
"No thanks. I don't sell drugs," the Lawrence High School junior said she responded. Her parents give her the medication at home and don't allow her to bring the pills to school.
The reported solicitation is part of what law enforcement and anti-drug groups say is a growing problem among teenagers and young adults.
According to the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug Free America's annual tracking study, one in five teenagers reports abusing prescription pain medication or stimulants and tranquilizers.
"I think it sets a normalization. If they begin to believe that it is all right to use these drugs, they don't see the harm, will they not continue to use it into the future?" said special agent Jeff Brandau of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. At De Soto High School, Principal Dave Morford said there were about three cases in the last year that involved students possessing prescription drugs that weren't prescribed to them. Mill Valley High School Principal Joe Novak said at his school there is generally about one case a year, which includes prescription and non-prescription drugs.
Drug enforcement officers are worried that teenagers and young adults don't equate prescription drug abuse with using other illicit drugs, Brandau said. Plus, he added, agencies are already stretched going after dealers of methamphetamine, cocaine and other illegal drugs.
"The only illicit drug use (in young people) that is on the increase is prescription medications," he said.
Young adults have access to their parents' medicine cabinets, or they may go to lengths such as pilfering a medicine supply at real estate open houses, Brandau said.
Among narcotic analgesics in Kansas, the pain killers oxycodone and hydrocodone have become the most distributed in the last six years, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data. In 2006, almost 350,000 grams of hydrocodone and 275,000 grams of oxycodone were distributed compared to only about 100,000 grams each in 2000.
Drug enforcement agents also worry about students taking medication to gatherings known as "pharm parties," and mixing the drugs, Brandau said.
"Basically, it's one of those risky behaviors. It could be speeding, driving recklessly or drinking alcohol. It's one extra thing (parents and adults) have to be more vigilant about," said Dr. Ty Yoshida, a psychiatrist at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, who works with teenagers and young adults on medication management.
Parents can play a major role in educating their children and convincing them to properly use prescription drugs.
"It really ultimately depends on the relationship they have with their kids," Yoshida said.
Morford and Novak, said they both supported parents taking the initiative and locking the medicine cabinet.
"I would definitely say that they need to be locking their medicine cabinet," Morford said. "If I had teenagers at home, I would be doing the same thing. You have just got to take the precautions anymore because the drug of choice in De Soto, Kansas, may still be marijuana but at the same time it could be a bunch of other things, too."
Brandau said parents need to be aware of their child's friends and how they spend their time. They also need to keep an eye on their own medication and notify school administrators or police if an issue arises.
Lawrence school administrators say drug prevention education should inform students about prescription drug abuse.
"I hear a lot about it during finals time," said Eric Killen, an LHS senior.
Some students believe taking the medication will help them focus to study, he said.
Hard to judge
LHS Associate Principal Matt Brungardt said in the last two years the school has had only two instances of students distributing prescription drugs.
"I think we see more use of alcohol and marijuana than we do prescription drugs," he said.
Administrators come down hard with the board's designated penalties, and they also educate students and parents on having the school nurse keep and administer medications during school hours, he said.
Novak and Morford are members of a committee looking into random drug testing students in De Soto USD 232. Both principals said that one student abusing any drug is enough to constitute a problem.
"One is too many," Morford said. "What constitutes a problem? That is a good question. If it is going on at all it's an issue that needs to be dealt with. If the safety of one student is affected then we should educate the parents and also educate the students regarding the dangers of that because if we don't do that even for the one student that it effects, we are doing a disservice."
Brandau, of the KBI, said it's important to use education and regulation to curb prescription-drug abuse among young people. "If we could stop the problem without law enforcement getting involved we'd love it. It only makes sense, really," he said.
A governor-appointed task force that studied the issue has drafted a bill that would create a prescription-drug monitoring program for pharmacists and practitioners to check on a secure Web site. It's aimed at preventing someone from going to several doctors and emergency rooms in hopes of stocking up on prescriptions.
Kansas is one of 15 states without one, and federal leaders want every state to have one by 2010, Brandau said. The monitoring program may target more of an adult population than teenagers, but it's a start, he said.
State Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, who is a pharmacist, said she was still seeking cosponsors on the monitoring program bill and plans to introduce it this week.
Morford and Novak said parents need to work to stay educated also. Both principals distribute newsletters weekly that often include information from Connect With Kids, a Web site that offers tips for parents.
Testing for prescription drugs also has been discussed by the district's random drug-testing committee. The committee has said that the purpose of implementing a random student drug testing policy would be to offer students another deterrent.
For now, parents need to study what drug trends are occurring nationwide, Morford said.
"You better become aware of what's available and out there and what kids nationally are abusing because we have kind of found whatever they are abusing on the east and the west coasts at some point is going to make its way east and west," he said.
- Leann Sulzen contributed to this article.