Pubdate: Mon, 02 May 2005
Source: Southeast Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2005 Southeast Missourian
Author: Matt Sanders
Bookmark: (Youth)


Teenagers are turning away from more conventional drugs like cocaine and 
marijuana and looking to the medicine cabinet, a recent study has found. 
The study, titled "Generation Rx" and conducted by The Partnership for a 
Drug-Free America, a not-for-profit group, shows that about one in five 
teens tried prescription painkillers in 2004. That rate of use is higher 
than that for Ecstasy, cocaine or LSD.

It's a trend the administration at Central High School has already started 
to deal with.

Mark Ruark, who has been assistant principal 11 years, said he didn't 
recall any cases during the first several years he held that position.

But "in the last five years we've had at least one case every year and in 
some years more than one," he said. "And those are just the times we've 
caught them and it's been brought to our attention."

Recently, Ruark said, school officials caught a student who had taken a 
mixture of Xanax, a popular anti-anxiety drug, and hydrocodone, a 
painkiller. The offense carries a penalty of an out-of-school suspension.

"We're really seeing the whole gamut," Ruark said.

Randy Rhodes, juvenile detention officer with the 32nd Judicial Circuit in 
Cape Girardeau County, said the reason for teens taking more prescription 
drugs is simple -- easy access. Prescription drugs can be found in almost 
any medicine cabinet -- many of them with the euphoric effects desired by 
teens looking for a high.

Rhodes said his office is seeing"quite a bit" of prescription drug abuse.

"Kids know at a very young age what these drugs do ... and they're swapping 
them out and selling them," he said. "It's convenience more than anything 
else. What we have now are people with a cafeteria of prescription drugs."

The study cited "ease of access" as a key reason for the abuse, and only 48 
percent said they saw "extreme risk" in taking the drugs. The most common 
abused drug was the painkiller Vicodin, with about 4.3 million teens, or 18 
percent, saying they've tried it.

About 2.3 million teens, or 10 percent, have tried prescription stimulants 
Ritalin or Adderall without a doctor's order, the study said.

"I think it's more dangerous maybe from the standpoint that they view this 
as a legal drug rather than illegal," Ruark said. "I don't think they're 
aware necessarily of the dangers of it."

Even though legal, prescription drugs can be deadly if the wrong ones are 
mixed together.

Sarah Schermann has already put three children through the Cape Girardeau 
public school system. She said things are much scarier now than when her 
27-year-old went through school.

"I've heard more about it in the last year or so than ever before," 
Schermann said. "I'm sure that with all that's out there it's a huge problem."

She said she hasn't had any problems with the children that already 
graduated, but with a different climate in society now, she's worried about 
the challenges her seventh-grader will have to face in the future.

"I don't think parents and most adults realize what kids are facing right 
now," Schermann said. "The drug problem is a scary thing."

With access to prescription drugs being so easy, Lt. Rodney Barnes with the 
Jackson Police Department said, there's only so much law enforcement can 
do, and that is mainly to educate.

And law enforcement has its hands tied in some cases, Rhodes said. 
Currently, he said, he can't bring charges against teens who sell their own 
prescriptions like he could if they were selling illegal substances or 
someone else's prescription.

Barnes said it's up to the parents to make sure their children know of the 
dangers and to monitor children's behavior.

"The one sign I'm going to point out -- rely on gut instincts," he said. 
"If you notice a change in behavior, find out what's going on."

In the schools, administrators are encouraging faculty to be on the lookout 
for strange behavior, which is often the only sign of prescription abuse. 
But they're also beginning to educate children and parents on the problem.

"Unfortunately so much of time in education we are reactive instead of 
proactive," Ruark said. "Abuse of prescription drugs is a relatively new 
thing, and we are responding to that and hopefully going to include it in 
the health curriculum and talk to students and parents about the problem."

School officials and law enforcement said the most effective way to stop 
prescription drug abuse is to keep track of pills and make sure they're in 
a secure place.
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