Staff writers Lorine Wright and Karen Billing recently met with Thomas Lenox, acting group supervisor for the tactical diversion squad of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego, to talk about prescription drug abuse and teens.
Have you seen an increase in prescription drug abuse by teenagers in the county?
Yes we've seen it. I'm assigned to a unit that works nothing but pharmaceuticals. What we're hearing from people that we've arrested when we interview them is that most of them — if not all — started [using pharmaceuticals] when they were in high school; some as young as 14 or 15, in their freshman, sophomore year of high school. We are seeing an increase in enforcement, arrests and prosecution.
Do you know why they're starting at 14?
They're at parties it's there, it's available — curiosity. Someone will tell them it's just like marijuana only 10 times better. At high school age, they're exposed to marijuana, alcohol and this is one that's available. Pills are in the home, everyone has access; it's available in medicine cabinets to take. They're so used to taking pills out of a prescription bottle that they don't look at with the same seriousness as taking heroin. They don't see it as serious.
Is it mostly OxyContin you're seeing?
Most of what we're seeing is a combination of OxyContin, Hydrocodone, Soma, some benzos (benzodiazepines: prescription drugs used for reducing stress and anxiety, promoting calmness, relaxation and sleep and as anti-depressants) like Xanax and Valium.
They get it initially from a medicine cabinet, but once that sort of wears out, where do they go to get it?
The older age group starts to connect with people from college, ages 18 to 22. They start supplying it to younger groups and it trickles down.
Do you find there's a certain type of person who does it?
From the interviews we do it's all across the board. It isn't just one particular group that looks at it as a popular thing to do; it's athletes, band members, student government, it's everybody.
Are you seeing kids using heroin?
We're seeing some because they move on from Oxy products — when they can't get them they turn to heroin. We have seen an increase in that because it's cheaper than the pills, with the same high.
Has heroin lost its negative stigma for them?
We're finding that most of them smoke heroin, they are not injecting or shooting it up. They're not at that level. And the OxyContin they smoke so they're going from one drug that they smoke to another drug they smoke. We're finding that they like the OxyContin better than heroin typically, but because of the withdrawals and the addiction they have to take what they can. Some are using suboxone, a drug used in treatment, to block cravings. They will actually buy those drugs on the street if they can't get OxyContin, hydrocodone or heroin. They take one or two of those a day to get over the withdrawal until they get money to resupply.