Prescription drug abuse a local problem

By Jaime Thomas

It gives a whole new meaning to basket party, but not in a good way.

Teenagers dump various prescription medications into a bin, pick one at random and take it to get high. It has been dubbed ‘pharming,’ and it’s a serious trend that’s sweeping the nation and hitting hard locally, too.

Local school districts are reporting 20 percent of kids misusing prescription drugs, said David Saffer, executive director of the council for prevention of alcohol and substance abuse, based out of Hudson Falls.

“It is a huge issue for schools and communities. It’s something that’s becoming a major concern,” Saffer said. Over the last three to five years, prescription drugs have replaced inhalants as the third most prevalent substance local youth are abusing.

And it’s not just older teenagers who are taking part in this trend — it’s being reported in kids age 12 up.

“One in four teens reports having misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime (up from 18 percent in 2008,) which translates to about five million teens. That is a 33 percent increase over a five year period,” according to a recently released study from the Partnership at and the MetLife Foundation, which tracked data from 2008 to 2012.

District Attorney Kevin Kortright said local officials became aware of this problem when a boy in Greenwich died five years ago from a prescription overdose.

“It’s a very addictive issue. It’s scary, because who knows what’s going to happen to some of these folks,” he said.

Granville Police Chief Ernie Bassett said his department does know this is going on, and it is the biggest drug problem in the area right now. As far as the school survey Saffer referenced, Jim Donnelly, Granville High School principal, said prescription abuse did show up. However, he said district officials are still in the process of digesting the results. In Hartford, District Superintendent Andrew Cook said he hadn’t heard any report of “pharming” in his school.

Among other reasons, officials attribute this growing fad to easy access. Saffer pointed out that prescription drugs do not take much effort to get. Matt Dickinson, Whitehall police chief, agrees.

“It’s one of the easier drugs to find, that’s obvious, especially if parents and grandparents are not protective of their own prescriptions,” Dickinson said. Youth can easily take pills from a cabinet in either relatives’ or friends’ homes. Real estate agents have even reported people going to open houses to stealing medications.

“Alarmingly, we are the suppliers of a lot of these prescription drugs which our children are abusing.  When we get injured and go to the doctor, they give us a prescription for drugs like Hydrocodone.  We do not take the drugs because of the way they make us feel, but we also do not get rid of them either,” Kortright wrote in a document on the subject.

Additionally, studies are finding that teenagers believe taking prescription drugs is not that bad. Kortright said youth think it’s OK to take prescription drugs because if a doctor gave it to them, it must be safe.

“Kids think it can’t do harm because its medicine,” Saffer said. “Our society is a society that talks a lot about taking pills.” And statistics prove his point.

The Partnership study found that “more than a quarter of teens mistakenly believe that misusing and abusing prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs, and 33 percent say they believe ‘it’s okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain.’”

Dickinson said kids also don’t understand how quickly they can become addicted to a substance. He said every generation has its issues, and this generation’s is prescriptions.

“By the time we figured out that everybody was abusing prescriptions, it was already a problem,” he said.

And to make the issue even harder to combat, both Dickinson and Saffer said the sale of illegal prescriptions is a huge factor as well. Pills sell for up to $25 each, which leaves a huge profit margin.

“There is significant profit involved; it’s huge for the seller, big business,” Saffer said.

Kortright said this issue is big in the county because it fuels nearly all home invasions, as well as burglaries and assaults.

Officials also said the most commonly abused drugs — Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin — are a precursor to heroin addiction.

While Washington County mirrors what is happening elsewhere, officials are trying to take action through educating parents and youth. They’re also warning doctors about overprescribing.

“Doctors prescribe much more than what they probably should,” Dickinson said. And Bassett’s recent trip to the county dump to dispose of turned-in prescriptions indicates this scale. He said he dropped off over 300 pounds of drugs a few weeks ago and already has three bags refilled.

“I do believe it is an issue. The more we know about it, the worse it’s going to get,” Dickinson said.

While you can’t control what your kids are doing at every moment, there are some concrete steps you can take to help curb prescription drug abuse.

  • Put your medicine out of reach, and know what you’ve got.
  • Teach your kids that prescription drugs are as dangerous as street drugs.
  • Drop off unused drugs at a local police station. Both Granville and Whitehall police accept any type of prescription medications no questions asked.
  • “It gives people the opportunity to clean their medicine cabinets. We do it for the benefit of people protecting their own,” Dickinson said.