By TAMMY FRAZIER
Other than alcohol or cigarettes, sixth graders abuse prescription drugs more than any other substance, and 22 percent of high school students in Arkansas have abused prescription drugs by their senior year, said 13th Judicial District Prosecutor Robin Carroll during a meeting of the Camden Noon Lion’s Club on Wednesday.
Carroll, whose office is located in El Dorado, was in Camden to announce an event to be held in Camden on Saturday to help dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs and to raise awareness about the growing problem of prescription drug abuse - not only among young people, but also among adults.
Carroll was accompanied to Camden by Susan Rumph, Region 11 prevention resource center coordinator. Her office is housed in the Arkansas Health Education Center in El Dorado.
To help abate the swelling number of children who are abusing prescription drugs, law enforcement agencies throughout the country will participate in the nation’s first “Save the Day” program, a “Take-Back” day, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
In Camden, the “Take-Back” event will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the newly-constructed Ouachita County Detention Complex. Then at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, the drugs will be destroyed at the Clean Harbor plant in El Dorado.
Carroll said he is in the process of learning if the 13th judicial district will hand out $5 Walmart gift cards to all who participate in the “Take Back” day on Saturday. Rumph said there will be more than 200 areas in the state that will participate in the event, making Arkansas second in the nation in its support of the program.
The event will be held so the public can take their expired and/or unused prescription medications to the new jail for disposal with “no questions asked,” according to a flyer from Carroll about Saturday’s activities.
In May when the 13th Judicial District held a drug dropoff at the Union County Health department, Carroll said, more than 11,000 pills were dropped off in a four-hour period. In Benton earlier this year, there were 50,000 pills dropped off in a four-year period during a similar event, he said.
In an informational handout, Carroll said about the prescription drug problem:
“Something that is supposed to make our lives better has become a crisis” in reference to prescription painkillers like Hydrocodone and Oxycotin.
He presented sobering, alarming statistics:
- In 2044, 19.1 million Americans were illicit drug users. Carroll said that is almost 8 percent of the American population.
- Non-medical use of prescription drugs ranks second only to marijuana as the most prevalent category of drug abuse.
- 25 percent of emergency department visits are associated with non-medical use of pharmaceuticals.
- Prescription drugs have more first-time users than any illicit drug.
- In 2008, teens reported that it is easier to get prescription drugs than beer. This is due to the drugs being readily available in their homes due to prescriptions by parents, or in the homes of their grandparents.
- 41 percent of teens believe prescription drugs are much safer than illicit drugs.
- 29 percent of teens believe prescription pain relievers are not addictive, even if not prescribed by a doctor with 20 percent believing that pain relievers are not addictive.
“You may have a 13-year-old, 14-year-old or 15-year-old who knows that marijuana and crack and meth are illegal. They know it’s wrong to have it on them, they know it’s wrong to sell it, they know it’s wrong to take it - they know it’s illegal,” Carroll explained. “But with these prescription drugs, they don’t have the same attitude. They think that because it’s made by a pharmaceutical company, because you can buy it at a pharmacy and it’s prescribed to you and it’s legal, it’s OK and legal for them to take it because they got it out of their parents’ medicine cabinet or from a friend at school. It just doesn’t have the same stigma attached to it as marijuana, meth or crack.”
He said the leading cause of death for people under the age of 26 in the state of Arkansas is accidental overdose of prescription medication. Arkansas is in the top five in the country in abuse of prescription drugs by young people.
Accidental drug overdoses in the state rose 195 percent from 1999 to 2004, Carroll said. He also reported that in El Dorado earlier this year, there were four deaths in two months from accidental drug overdoses.
There are many ways the public is getting illegal prescription drugs, Carroll said, including illegal prescriptions, rogue Internet pharmacies, pharmacy theft, doctor shopping and drugs coming from across the border from Canada or Mexico.
In Union County over a six-month period last year, there were six break-ins of pharmacies and the only items stolen were prescription painkillers, Carroll said.
Camden Police Department’s Lt. George Ingram was in the audience Wednesday and he reported that there were three pharmacy break-ins in Camden in 2009.
Carroll reported that Hydrocodone - which includes the painkillers Vicodin, Lortab and Lorcet - is by far the most abused pharmaceutical in the country. He reported that in 2004, the U.S. used 99 percent of the global Hydrocodone supply.
“It is the most prescribed drug in America times two,” he said.
The street value of Hydrocodone is around $10 for one pill, Carroll said. Oxycotin comes in 20, 40 and 80 milligrams and each pill is sold according to milligrams: A 20 mg. pill will sell for $20, a 40 mg. pill for $40 and the 80 mg. sells for $80.
The 80 mg. Oxycotin pill is so expensive because “kids smash them up and inject it in their veins like heroin,” Carroll said, adding that in larger cities, some kids have switched to heroin from Oxycotin because heroin produces the same high, but is cheaper than Oxycotin.
He said the solution lies in the “Monitor, Secure and Dispose” method:
- Monitor the amount of pills in each prescription drug bottle, track refills, lock the drugs up, and if the prescription is for a young person, monitor the usage and refills.
- Secure the drugs by locking them up, tell relatives - especially grandparents - to secure their drugs, talk to parents of other teens.
- Dispose expired or unused prescription drugs, do not flush them - go to the FDA Web site to learn of how to properly dispose of them, remove or black out labels on old prescriptions before throwing the empty bottles away to prevent ID theft and illegal prescription purchase.
Carroll said the public should make sure to learn how to properly dispose of drugs so that the chemical is not flushed down the toilet or down the drain, because some of the drugs can contaminate the water supply.
Another solution, he said, is to treat the prescription drug dealers in the same manner as the sellers of illegal drugs like crack cocaine and meth.