Red Ribbon Week: Teen pill popping becoming a problem

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 23, 2012 

On a wall in his office, professional drug counselor John Doheny III has photos of entertainment figures. There is Jimi Hendrix right alongside Janis Joplin, John Belushi and Jim Morrison. There are also photos of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

They are hanging there not for admiration, but as a warning.

Hendrix, Joplin, Belushi and Morrison all had drug-related deaths before their 30th birthdays. Spears and Lohan are two celebrities who are reported to have had drug problems, and Doheny fears they might be headed in the same direction.

"Young people feel like they are invulnerable, that the terrible things that have happened to others using drugs won't happen to them. They won't die," Doheny said. "They do."

One of the more popular ways of getting high these days is popping prescription pills. They may be found at home or bought at school. A parent who receives pain pills such as Vicodin or Oxycontin after a surgery may use a few, then switch to an over-the-counter medicine, such as Tylenol.

Doheny said a child may find the narcotics accessible.

"Parents should keep track of what medicines they have and how many pills," Doheny said.

Angie Kopec, of Bradford Health Services, said: "When through with pills, they should be discarded."

Kids like pills for a high, because there is no telltale odor such as with alcohol or marijuana.

Some teens visit the medicine cabinet at a friend's house, Kopec said.

"Many children get the pills when visiting a grandparent. Elderly people usually have a lot of medication," she said.

According to the Medicine Abuse Project, an initiative of Partnership at, every day more than 2,000 kids abuse prescription drugs for the first time.

Ninety percent of addictions start in the teen years. One in six teens has used a prescription drug to get high or to change their mood.

Forty-four percent of teens say they have at least one friend who abuses prescription drugs and 65 percent of them say they get the drugs from family or friends.

Drugs can affect respiratory and brain functions. Seizures and death can be the result.

Hardaway High students who talked with the Ledger-Enquirer last week said the abuse of prescription pills is a big problem in Columbus schools.

There are parties where pills are put into a bowl and students grab some out not knowing what the pill is or its side effects.

"That's extremely dangerous because you don't know how one medication will react with another," Kopec said. "You never how one will react with alcohol if you are also drinking."

Teen Challenge International, a Christian boarding school in Seale, Ala., provides a 15-month education, counseling and training program for 60 girls, ages 13 to 17 who have life-controlling problems and have entered into a destructive lifestyle.

Program manager Rebecca Boone said several of the girls have had pill problems and all are monitored very closely to assure no abuse happens.

Medicines are not in the girls' possession. Some girls arrive with medicine for attention deficit disorder.

When it is taken away, they often find the girls don't have a problem at all.

"It's easy to get a prescription from a doctor if you've done research and know the symptoms," one of the girls said. "You just tell the doctor you are feeling depressed and can't concentrate."

Another girl added, "You just tell them you have been having this trouble sleeping. You can even convince a doctor you have ADD or that you are bipolar. Parents love it when they get pills from a doctor that will make everything all right."

One girl said some of the pills just "numb you out."

"You just don't feel anything," she said.

Sometimes, one girl said, pills are crushed up into marijuana.

"That's really risky," one said.

Kopec said sometimes kids will take the prescription medicines as an experiment just to see what the effect is like.

"Remember, curiosity killed the cat," she said.

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