Because of incorrect information provided to The Bee by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Viewpoints commentary on Saturday, "Prescription drug abuse is on the rise among teenagers," was attributed to Sheriff Jones. The commentary is republished below, with the correct authors.
The Bee recently featured articles on the problem of prescription drug abuse and the need to talk with teens. While still a public menace, illicit substances like heroin and cocaine have taken a back seat to the abuse of legal prescription medications.
Many of these medications when misused or altered in some way melted, pulverized, mixed with some other substance, injected into blood vessels are just as addictive as many illicit drugs and can have at least as harmful side effects and morbidity. Even worse, prescription drugs are the second most common cause of accidental death in the United States.
The reason for their potency lies with their pharmacological benefit. Many of these drugs, such as fentanyl, OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Valium, Xanax and Adderall, are marketed in the United States because of some advantageous therapeutic effect, ranging from pain relief to anxiety reduction, and seizure control to remedying gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea. To exert their therapeutic effects, these medications usually work on some aspect of the central nervous system, often blocking or increasing the effects of such neurotransmitters as serotonin, dopamine and others. As such, almost anything that affects the central nervous system usually has the capability of producing adverse effects such as hallucinations, depression, stupor, euphoria and respiratory depression.
Their misuse results in tolerance and addiction, both psychological and physical. Even the seemingly "tame" ingredients that are used in formulating these medications can become problematic under the auspices of abuse. For example, persons abusing drugs with acetaminophen (Tylenol) added to them (like Percocet) often will end up taking toxic levels of the acetaminophen, which results in liver damage.
The abused medications often are sold in controlled-release dosage forms, meaning that the contents of the active ingredient are released slowly over an extended period of time, like 24 hours. When crushed or liquefied, the entire dose is immediately active. Often, the abuser will ingest several doses at one time, thus even more greatly potentiating their effects.
The problems these medications can cause are multiplied manyfold when they are combined with other substances, such as other prescription medications, alcohol and illicit drugs. More often than not, this is precisely how they are used (abused); that is, in combination with other substances. Prescription drugs have become an all too common component of raves and other parties. That being said, there are a number of abusers who have become addicted to a single prescription medication.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department youth services unit, along with personnel from its narcotics unit, recently met with students, faculty and administrators from the California Northstate University College of Pharmacy as well as local public school officials to kick off "GenerationRx," a program aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse in children and adolescents.
Statistics from the youth services and narcotics units indicate that prescription drug abuse has become rampant in the Sacramento Valley. Abusers have been known to steal prescription pads from prescribers' offices and crudely manufacture some of the medications. But what makes these medications so insidiously problematic is that they are indeed available through legal means. Abusers steal medication doses from family members and friends who have legitimate prescriptions, including many instances wherein the family member or friend has long since quit taking the medication but has not disposed of remaining doses.
Combating this problem requires diligence from citizens, family, friends, physicians, pharmacists, educators and law enforcement. GenerationRx involves doctoral pharmacy students making multifaceted educational interventions in area middle and high schools with pupils and teachers. These doctoral students are not yet old enough to be seen as parent figures but are mature and educated enough to be taken seriously. This, combined with the proper "touch" from law enforcement personnel, provides just the right message tone.
Until a GenerationRx program comes to you, be on the lookout for signs that someone you know might be abusing prescription drugs. First, be conscious of the medications you have on hand and be alert for missing doses, particularly when occurring frequently. Be diligent about properly disposing of unused medication by contacting law enforcement or your local pharmacy. Watch for signs of drug abuse among users, including smaller or larger pupils, bloodshot eyes, changes in physical appearance, unusual body or breath odor, impaired cognitive function, suspicious behaviors, unexplained financial problems, worsening performance at school or work, personality changes, mood swings, paranoia and lack of motivation. It takes a concerted effort and watchful eye among us all to meet this deleterious problem head-on.
Shane P. Desselle is dean and professor of California Northstate University College of Pharmacy in Rancho Cordova. Sgt. Mark Scott is supervisor of the youth services unit for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.