Newtown Bee By Larissa Lytwyn
Parent Connection, a grassroots organization dedicated to preventing substance abuse, hosted its latest forum, featuring Newtown Drug Center pharmacist Richard Gubbiotti, Purdue Pharma physician Sherry Siegel, and Purdue Pharma representative Clay Yeager, on prescription medicine use and abuse to an audience of nearly 100 at Newtown Middle School on March 24.
Mr Gubbiotti discussed the increasing trend of “pharming,” that is, the practice of getting high through the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications.
While both types of medicines are effective when used properly and when needed, ingesting them when healthy or using higher than the recommended dose can be dangerous and even fatal, he said.
Mr Gubbiotti discussed the findings of recently administered consumer surveys.
“In one survey, 44 percent of people exceed the recommended dose of over-the-counter medication,” he noted. “Surveys also report that consumers do not carefully read labels.”
Only 16 percent of survey respondents, in fact, reported reading the entire label.
The group most likely to abuse over-the-counter medications is between ages 12 and 17. “These young people cannot purchase alcohol or cigarettes legally, but can buy OTC drugs without oversight,” Mr Gubbiotti said.
There are four varieties of OTC medications that are being abused: antitussives, particularly dextomethorphan (DXM), central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, antihistamines, and inhalants.
When taken in amounts even moderately over the recommended dose, medications containing DXM, such as Robotussin and other cold and cough products, can produce an opiatelike sense of “increased euphoria, decreased awareness of time and surroundings and even hallucinations,” said Mr Gubbiotti.
One four-ounce bottle of Robotussin is the equivalent of about 350 milligrams of DXM; about 100 milligrams can produce the “first plateau” of euphoria, increasing to a more dissociated sense of reality as the amount of medication ingested is increased.
Slang terms for abusing Robotussin including “Tussin Toss” and “Robotripping.”
CNS stimulants, such as ephedrine and pseudoepherdrine found in medicines including Sudafed and Vick’s inhalers, as well as caffeine, can induce tremors, seizures, and even death if taken in toxic doses.
“There was recently a report of a 20-year-old college student who died after swallowing most of a 90-tablet bottle of No Doze,” said Mr Gubbiotti. “It was the equivalent to drinking 250 cups of coffee.”
Antihistamines, such as Dramamine and Benadryl, can produce a spacey feeling, often leading to hallucinations, if abused. One teen described the effects as the “Benadryl Buzz.”
Inhalants such as nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, are available via the Internet in canisters. It is used for a whipped cream recharger, also known as “whip-its” or “poppers.”
“Other products, such as rubber cement, can produce the spacey, euphoric feeling,” said Mr Gubbiotti. When taken in toxic doses, the consequences are severe, resulting even in death.
“Signs and symptoms of [this kind] of drug abuse include change in mood, cognition, and behavior, impaired concentration, and decreased social and academic performance,” said Mr Gubbiotti.
He encouraged parents to consider acquiring home 96-percent accurate drug testing kits available through websites such as www.athomedrugtest.com.
In closing, Mr Gubbiotti reminded parents to ensure that their children are taking OTC medications “for a reason,” read all labels thoroughly, and not hesitate to use their local doctor or pharmacist as a resource for further information on OTC medication abuse.
Next, Dr Siegel from Purdue Pharma discussed how the company is striving to minimize the problem of prescription drug abuse.
First, she described the realities of Americans suffering from chronic pain. “Chronic pain is a medical disorder,” she said. The body’s pain receptors react even when there is no “danger” nearby. Medications including the controversial OxyContin, derived from Oxycodone and administered in 12-hour doses, are effective in treating pain.
When crushed or broken, however, OxyContin, an opioid (previously referred to as a narcotic), can produce a potentially life-threatening “high.”
Purdue Pharma, she said, is striving to address the issue through, for example, coating pain medications such as OxyContin with a “blocker” that is released only when the pills are broken or crushed.
“At the same time,” said Dr. Siegel, “we want to make sure that the medications are effective for the people who are in pain that need them.”
Mr Yeager, a Purdue Pharma representative, discussed the company’s programs, such as “Painfully Obvious,” aimed at increasing awareness of prescription medicine abuse.
He discussed the four domains – community, family, school, and peers – that contain either risk or protective factors for teens.
Communities with supportive networks and drug-free recreation outlets, such as Newtown’s Teen Center, tend to be healthier than areas without these factors.
Families with open communication and no drug or alcohol abuse are likely to provide children with a more protective environment than ones riddled with substance abuse or conflict.
Academic performance and involvement in school activities, Mr Yeager explained, can also serve as indicators of how susceptible a teen may be to drug abuse. Peer interaction is also a critical factor.
“Who are your child’s friends?” Mr Yeager asked the audience, citing the strong influence of peers their children may “hang out with.”
One mother said that while she enjoyed Mr Gubbiotti’s presentation, she found the remarks by Dr Siegel and Mr Yeager “condescending.”
“The bottom line is that these prescription medications are addictive,” she said. “Purdue Pharma is just trying to defend itself. It’s trying to keep itself clean.”
Another parent, however, Margaret Hull, a former school board member, found all the presentations informative and useful. “I am here to support our children,” she said. She continued that she was “particularly concerned” with middle school-aged students who are just beginning to experiment and potentially abuse substances.
One parent expressed frustration at Newtown High School’s continuous smoking problems despite a “no smoking” policy on its campus. She also said her daughter told her “that you could get any drug you want through Newtown High School.”
Newtown High School Principal Bill Manfredonia said that drugs are available everywhere in society for the students who want them.
He expressed concern over underage drinking and marijuana use because, he said, it often leads to “harder” drug use.
As for smoking, he admitted it was an “ongoing problem” at the high school. “We were receiving reports form parents that there were students smoking outside the front entrance at 7 am,” he said. “Now we have one [of the school’s only two] security officer monitoring the area in the morning.”
One parent muttered, “If they stopped cutting the budget we could have some more personnel!”
At the end of the evening, Parent Connection co-founder Donna DeLuca thanked the parents present, a few of whom had brought their middle or highschool-aged students, for attending.
She reminded parents not to blame one another while still taking responsibility for their problems.
“I have an opioid-addicted son,” she said. “That’s my reality.”
She encouraged parents to attend the Parent Connection’s next forum on Wednesday, April 28, at 7 pm at Newtown Middle School. The group will host students ranging from former users to those who have never abused substances discussing their perspectives on substance abuse.
“These students share the same frustrations, the same concerns, as you,” Ms DeLuca told the audience. She encouraged parents to “call each other,” maintaining an open forum of communication with one another. She also thanked the support of the schools, police, and other organizations for their continued community support.
For more information on Parent Connection, contact co-founder Dorrie Carolan at 426-6424 or 426-8591.
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