Newtown Bee By John VoketIf it can happen to the son of a former Vice President, twice, it can happen to you.
That is the message the two co-founders of the Newtown Parent Connection want to drive home following the high profile arrest of Al Gore, III, last week, on the second incident of drug possession since 2003. But unlike the case of Mr Gore, the local substance abuse support activists have seen too many cases of teen drug abuse end with tragic results including overdose deaths and multiple relapses.
In the past year to 18 months, Newtown Parent Connection co-founders Dorrie Carolan and Donna DeLuca say they have seen an “alarming increase,” in the amount of referrals they are helping families make for children and teens looking to detox and rehabilitate from prescription drug addiction.
“We’ve got more prescription drug addictions and problems than ever, and younger – as young as middle school, Ms DeLuca said.
The pair said that in the same period, many of the individuals who they are referring for heroin detox moved from snorting to injecting the opiate after developing a dependence on more expensive prescription medications.
“I think the tendency for kids to abuse prescription drugs is more accepted because it’s issued by a doctor,” Ms Carolan said.
“It’s perceived to be safe,” Ms DeLuca said. “The people we speak to find these drugs are easily accessible in their parents’ or friends’ parents’ medicine cabinets. And that the availability on the street has increased.”
A Downward Spiral
Ms Carolan said a transition from illegally obtained prescription drugs to cheaper opiates, particularly heroin, becomes more inevitable as the need for more quantity takes hold and the amount of cash the addict can obtain starts running out.
“You can buy anything out there but heroin is the cheapest of all,” she said. “But when the Vicodin or Adderall becomes too expensive, we’re being told that’s when they start using heroin.”
Ms DeLuca said she hopes people being issued any of the variety of prescriptions becoming more popular as recreational drugs among young people use common sense when storing the medication.
“When people are prescribed drugs, those drugs should be kept in a safe and secure place,” she said. “We are becoming much more responsible about locking up our alcohol, so why don’t we pay more attention to what’s in their medicine cabinet?”
The local activists say the case of Al Gore’s son is similar to many they have seen in and around Newtown.
“These are not dysfunctional kids, these can be anybody from any walk of life,” Ms Carolan said.
Ms DeLuca, blames a small minority sub-group of physicians, who play a role in getting an inordinate amount of these prescription drugs out to young people, or onto the street.
“They should all be hung,” she said. “They have a responsibility to help people get well, but they have exacerbated the situation.”
She said if a child says they are suffering, “pouring on the drama,” it is typical for a parent to seek help.
“But in the case of addictions, these kids and parents are sometimes going to seek pharmaceuticals from multiple physicians,” Ms DeLuca said. “And in some cases it’s the kids who are convincing the parents to doctor shop.”
She said parents need to be hyper-aware of a young person complaining of chronic pain, and to keep a close eye on their children’s prescription inventory, especially if they have been prescribed certain medications for long-term use.
“If Concerta, Adderall, or Ritalin are disappearing at a faster rate than seems appropriate, the parents need to get involved. There is a street value for these drugs, so even if they are just selling their own meds, they are contributing possibly to the death or addiction of others, even their peers and best friends,” Ms DeLuca said.
“Commonly prescribed drugs for ADD and ADHD in childhood create a higher risk situation as they move into middle and high school,” she said. “There is a market for these drugs in their peer group.”
Getting The Help
Ms DeLuca said stimulant drugs like Ritalin as well as pain meds, especially Vicodin and Oxicontin are highly sought after by young peers and classmates. But another danger is in the tranquilizer drugs like Zanax and Valium, which are being experimented with much more frequently.
“The opiate drugs lead to snorting, which leads to snorting heroin and then sticking a needle into themselves,” she said. “But these tranquilizers are very dangerous to detox from.”
According to Dr Anna Duncan, a local family practitioner who volunteers at Newtown’s Kevin’s Community Center free clinic, unmonitored attempts to quit this group of tranquilizers cold turkey can lead to seizures and death.
Lately Ms DeLuca has seen a lot of relapses among local young people the Parent Connection has already helped place in rehab or recovery programs. Ms Carolan said several of these individuals, who became addicted to prescript and illegal drugs, are getting better results attending rehab facilities out of state.
“These places have plenty of clean activities, a lot of recovering addicts; they are away from the triggers, and the people or the places where they get the drugs,” Ms Carolan said. “Until they have some time of sobriety under their belt they have to stay away.”
Ms Carolan, who lost her son to drug addiction, credits local parents who react as soon as they learn their children or teens are drinking or using marijuana.
“In the past year and a half we’ve seen more and more parents who are looking for help before their kids hit that next stage,” she said.
Ms DeLuca recalls when the organization started in 2003, she was seeing almost exclusively college age addicts.
“Now we are seeing middle school prescript addictions and high school age heroin users,” she said.
Prescription drug abuse among 18- to 25-year-olds rose 17 percent from 2002 to 2005, according to the White House drug policy office. In 2004 and again in 2005, there were more new abusers of prescription drugs than new users of any illicit drug.
Young people mistakenly believe prescription drugs are safer than street drugs, doctors say. But accidental prescription drug deaths are rising and students who abuse pills are more likely to drive fast, binge-drink and engage in other dangerous behaviors.
Looking To Positives
Ms Carolan said if a positive can be found in this situation, people seem to be coming out sooner, before their children are moving on to heroin.
She said many of the young people who have recovered through Parent Connection referrals have gone on to be leaders and influence others, strangers as well as peers, to seek help. Ms Carolan believes those who are most successful are in a 12-step program.
“They need a proven support system filled with peers who will help them, introduce them to others who want to help and get them to be part of the recovery system that AA provides,” she said.
Ms DeLuca said the summer vacation, especially at certain ages, is the time parents may be most lax about monitoring their children, but it is the time they most frequently engage in harmful activities, especially if intoxicating or stimulating substances are readily available. She said eighth grade is a transitional year for most kids experimenting with gateway drugs like marijuana and alcohol and tobacco.
“We want parents to use the summer period when partying is rampant, to just monitor their activities closely,” Ms DeLuca said. “Also parents need to speak frankly to their kids who are going off to college. They need to understand that these drugs are all rampant on college campuses. Pot and alcohol are first and foremost.”
Both Ms Deluca and Carolan invite parents who suspect their kids may be experimenting to the Newtown Parent Connection Hope & Support group. The organization meets Mondays from 7:30 to 9:30 at Newtown Youth Services office, 10 Glen Road, or they can call 994-5394 or 426-9280 for help or referrals.
“I give these parents so much credit because they are seeking help and no longer paralyzed by the stigma that something is wrong with their kid, or with them as parents,” Ms Carolan said. “The hope is, catch them early, get through recovery, and they may never have to go into rehab again.”
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