Prescription Drug Addiction: What Happens In Vegas. . .

Prescription Drug Addiction: What Happens In Vegas. . .

As the saying goes - what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And for the more than 60 people who have died in that city from prescription drug overdoses since 2003, you might say Las Vegas has claimed their actions - and them - for eternity. Now city officials are worried about a trend in city schools that, unchecked, could lead to widespread prescription drug addiction among school children.

Sixty people, aged between 13 and 20, died from overdoses involving prescription drugs Clark County between 2003 and 2007, according to the County Coroner's Office. Clark County School District Police say that last year, school police started seeing more students carrying pain killers for which they didn't have a prescription.

There have been five arrests already this school year for illicit prescription drug possession - a small percentage of the approximately 400 drug and alcohol-possession cases school police handle each year - but prescription drug addiction and abuse could be the next illicit drug menace for teens.

And unlike the city's marketing motto about your secrets staying in Vegas, if you get busted for prescription drug addiction, abuse or illegal possession, the secret's out. If you don't see your name in the newspaper or hear it on the 10 o'clock news, you can be sure your family and friends will find out. And if you're a high school kid in the America's gaming capital, odds are pretty much 100-to-zero that everyone at school will also hear about it.

Prescription drug addiction and abuse is a national problem, and it is spreading into schools across the country. Prescription drugs are rapidly replacing illicit street drugs in many areas, among both teens and adults, because they're so easy to get. Some studies now show that only marijuana and alcohol are ahead of prescription drugs among young people in numbers of arrests.

But prescription drugs are way ahead of all the other drugs in numbers of deaths from overdoses and dangerous interactions between a prescription drug and alcohol, a prescription and a street drug, or two or more prescription drugs.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which sponsored the "This is your brain on drugs" commercials showing an egg in a frying pan, is sponsoring a new commercial warning that teens don't need the street dealer anymore - they're raiding the family medicine cabinets for prescription drugs.

School police department spokesman Lt. Ken Young told the Las Vegas Sun recently that in most cases they see, the kids got their drugs from home.

"They maybe take a pill here and a few days later take another one out of the bottle and mom and dad probably don't notice," he said. "The last thing [parents] think is their son or daughter would take their prescription."

He added that kids are they're sharing prescription drugs pilfered from home with other kids.

The medical director of a local recovery center said prescription painkillers are becoming more prevalent. He confirmed that the main source is a parent's medicine cabinet, and said most of the center's late-teen-aged patients had been using them for years.

"There's almost an illusion that they're safe because they're legal. They're not safe," he said. "People are overdosing on these drugs on a daily basis, especially when they're mixed with other drugs, and that's pretty much the standard way to use these drugs for kids."

Prescription painkillers are probably the most addictive of commonly abused prescription drugs, and among the most deadly. The vast majority of deaths are a result of abusing prescription painkillers. And the majority of prescription drug addiction cases involve painkillers.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports 2,500 kids ages 12 to 17 try a painkiller for the first time each day. And more than 2.1 million teens reported abusing prescription drugs in a 2006 survey.

Arlene Hummel, coordinator for the district's Safe and Drug Free School Program, told the Sun that it's hard to know exactly how many school kids are using prescription drugs, but there were about 1,000 students who attended the program last year. Students caught in possession or under the influence of drugs must attend a six-hour counseling session with their parents.

The best thing parents can do is communicate openly with their kids about drug abuse, and be aware of their own behavior when using prescriptions, she added.

A good thing for parents to do is lock up or hide their prescription drugs. If a kid is involved with an addictive prescription drug, call a doctor for professional advice, and speak to someone at a medical drug detox center about safely getting off the drugs.


Rod MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.

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