By Marlena Chavira-Medford
A generation ago, drug addictions were something formed in seedy alleys, in bad parts of town. Today, that’s no longer true. An alarming number of those addictions are starting at home, in the medicine cabinet — especially among kids.
According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs are the second most abused illegal drug (behind marijuana) by kids ages 12 to 17, and the most commonly abused drug among kids ages 12 to 13.
“It’s a national epidemic, and it’s happening here in San Diego County,” deputy district attorney Matthew Williams told an audience at Calvary Lutheran Church in Solana Beach during a Jan. 26 talk about prescription drug abuse. “If you think it’s not happening in our back yard, think again.”
In fact, from 2005 to 2009, San Diego County saw a staggering 74 percent spike in deaths related to prescription drugs.
“A big reason for that is we’re seeing a whole new generation of drug addicts who see pills as a cure-all,” he said. “Think about it: When you turn on the TV today, every other commercial is for some magic pill. That wasn’t the case when we were growing up. We now have a generation of kids who think it’s normal to take a pill for everything.”
But those pills can be deadly, namely OxyContin, a narcotic pain reliever.
“When kids take these pills they’re putting heroin in their mouths,” he said of the prescription pills, which are synthetically similar to heroin, and can be ingested, snorted, smoked or shot through a syringe. “These pills are every bit as dangerous as heroin, every bit as deadly as heroin, and every bit as addictive as heroin.”
Most OxyContin users start taking a quarter of a pill per day, and within just a few months, graduate up to eight pills a day. And at upwards of $80 a pill, a lot of addicts end up switching to heroin because it’s cheaper.
The rash of OxyContin use started locally in affluent North County neighbors, such as Del Mar, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Carmel Valley, said San Diego Sheriff’s Sergeant Dave Ross, a 21-year police veteran who helped establish the OXY Task Force in San Diego.
“While working undercover, I’ve picked up about a thousand pills right here down the street,” Ross said, pointing to the gas station off Via de la Valle and Stevens roads. “This area continues to be a hot spot for OxyContin.”
The problem is, a lot of parents don’t know it. North County resident Jodi Frantz was one of the many parents who was oblivious to the prescription drug epidemic — that is, until her own son Patrick became an addict. He tried OxyContin for the first time in 2007 when he was a senior at Torrey Pines High School, she said. After a three-year battle with the drug, he died this summer from an overdose.
“The last time I stood here was when I eulogized my own son’s funeral,” she told the audience inside the Solana Beach church through tears. “Seven months ago, my family lived an indescribable nightmare. I received the phone call no parent wants.
“Our grief is indescribable. Our loss is permanent. And my son’s death was unnecessary. The proverbial question of ‘why?’ may never be answered, but the lesson is do not ever take this drug. Not even once. OxyContin addiction is a horrible game of Russian Roulette.”
Frantz’s story is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly common in North County. Story after story flashed across the screen of addiction ending in tragedy, and a handful of local parents who had lost their children to OxyContin also stood to be recognized. Sherrie Rubin, a Poway mother, took the stage to share the story of her son Aaron who overdosed on OxyContin when he was 23. As a result, he suffered a heart attack and two strokes. Now 28, her son is a quadriplegic and unable to speak.
“My son’s so-called friends found him in the morning and he had turned blue,” she told the audience, with her son in a wheelchair next to her. “They called the pharmacy in Mexico where they had gotten the pills. And they called a buddy who was an EMT, who told them to call 911 immediately. But they did not call 911. Instead, they dragged my son to the car and took him to the hospital. When the doctors asked what had happened to him, they said they had no idea.
“I’m here to tell you all, the people you take pills with are not your friends. An addict only cares about one thing, and it’s not you. My son’s story is proof of that.
“Prescription pill abuse is a quiet epidemic nobody wants to talk about. But we have to get the message out. Things have to change.”
In an effort to help bring about that change, Rubin and her husband Mike recently founded a nonprofit organization called H.O.P.E. Inc. (Heroin, Opiates, and Prescription pill Education). She urged parents to take what they were hearing to heart.
“What you see here tonight is just a tiny little glimpse into the epidemic that’s happening right here,” she said. “But by hearing this information and these stories, you are getting an opportunity we never had.”
San Diego Sheriff’s Sergeant Dave Ross said that while OxyContin continues to be one of the most abused prescription drugs, other pills such as Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Lortab and Hydrocodone are not far behind.
Tips for parents
What are some warning signs of drug abuse?
Sgt. Ross said because parents see their kids every day, it can be difficult to peg changes. However, he urged the audience to keep a sharp eye for:
•Withdrawl from family events
•Frequently leaving the house, or being caught in lies
•A decline in academic or work performance
•Items turn up missing from the house, or the child starts having money issues
•Extreme weight loss, a weakened immune system, watery and sunken eyes, poor complexion, frequent drowsiness and tremors
What should parents do to keep tabs on their kids?
Sgt. Ross, who is a father to two teenagers, encouraged parents to “dig for the hard answers,” and told them they “shouldn’t be your kid’s friend. You need to be their parent, not an enabler.” He suggested that parents:
•Start checking their child’s social sites, like Facebook and MySpace, or texts for inappropriate conversations
•Search their rooms for paraphernalia, including tinfoil, hollowed-out pens, lighters, hose clamps, syringes and spoons
Where are kids getting these drugs?
•Illegal Internet sites that allow people to order prescription drugs online
•Smuggling pills across the border from pharmacies in Mexico
•Parents’ medicine cabinets
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Oxy Hotline at 877-662-6384. For more information, please visit sdsheriff.net.