Prescription Drug Addiction: Rural America In Crisis

Prescription Drug Addiction: Rural America In Crisis

On the picturesque eastern shores of Lake Michigan, where rural Oceana County, MI, is home to more asparagus and cherry trees than people, dozens of young adults have gone to rehab, and one has already died, because of an epidemic of prescription drug addiction and abuse.

Jessica Bruce, a former cheerleader at Hart High School and an accomplished equestrian, died this past August when she overdosed on drugs that included a Fentanyl patch. Fentanyl is one of the most powerful narcotic pain drugs known, with a potency some 80 times greater than pure morphine - and kids in Oceana County are getting their hands on it, and plenty of other dangerous drugs, apparently with ease.

Indeed, Jessica's father, Steve Bruce, told the Muskegon Chronicle that his daughter had stolen Fentanyl patches and other drugs from her mother in the past. He said the day she died, Jessica was scheduled to enter a drug rehab facility.

Oceana County is the last place one might suspect a drug epidemic among young people. But in this pastoral setting, where the largest of high school will graduate fewer than 115 seniors this year, 42 Oceana County residents ages 15-20 were in drug treatment last year. And according to one recovering addict, that is a fraction of the number actually misusing drugs.

"There is a big problem here," said Brittany, 20, who is recovering from prescription drug addiction. Brittany told the Chronicle that "weed is a big deal everywhere, but prescription drugs you can get from just about anyone."

The explosion in prescription drug addiction and abuse among teens and young adults in Oceana County is not unique. Everywhere you go in America, more and more young adults are entering treatment centers for prescription drug addiction. Nowhere in America, this story tells us, are youth truly safe from the ravages of prescription drug addiction and the lost and ruined lives that go with it.

"It's very difficult to understand how it happens in a rural community with small-town values," the Rev. Lorraine Boucon of Hart Congregational United Church of Christ told the Chronicle. "You see people dying of drugs and it just doesn't make sense."

According to dozens of published surveys, the number one source for drugs that lead to abuse, prescription drug addiction, and deaths among young people are the prescription drugs stolen from parents, relatives and neighbors. It's no longer the evil drug peddler in the school yard or on the corner, it's our own legitimate prescriptions left unattended in medicine cabinets, kitchens and beside the bed that are getting them hooked and killing them.

Presiding at Jessica's funeral, Rev. Boucon summed it up best: "Living on drugs is not a life. Just because you're breathing, doesn't mean you're alive."

If your prescriptions are not locked up or safely hidden, you owe it to your kids or your neighbor's kids to attend to that immediately. And if you know anyone, of any age, who has or may have a prescription drug addiction problem, call a medical drug detox facility and ask for their advice on what to do. You will be helping to save a life.


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

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