Pubdate: Mon, 25 Dec 2006
Source: Brownsville Herald, The (TX)
Copyright: 2006 The Brownsville Herald
Author: Melissa Mcever


More teenagers are using  prescription medications and even 
over-the-counter  drugs, like cough syrup, to get high, according to 
a new study.

The Rio Grande Valley is no exception.

A survey released last week from the National Institute  on Drug 
Abuse found that the number of young teens  abusing the prescription 
drug OxyContin has nearly  doubled in the last four years, and 
slightly more teens  are using the painkiller Vicodin. In addition, 
about 7 percent of 12th-graders reported abusing cough or 
cold  medicines. That's about one in every 14, according to  the survey.

Although the percentage of teens using illicit drugs is  much larger 
- -- 37 percent of 12th-graders reported  illicit drug use in the last 
year -- the growing  reliance on over-the-counter drugs and 
prescriptions is  worrisome, local officials say.

"Teenagers are definitely getting into the prescription  stuff, in 
addition to other drugs," said Joe Gonzalez,  executive director of 
the Rio Grande Valley Council  Inc., which offers screenings and 
referrals for alcohol  and drug treatment. "It's increasing, 
especially among  the middle-school group."

The council's records don't identify the number of  clients addicted 
to prescription or over-the-counter  drugs. Those cases are lumped 
into a few other  categories like "other narcotics," Gonzalez said. 
However, he said, the council began seeing more cases  about five 
years ago, and it's been a steady stream  ever since.

"There's a lot of peer influence (to try cough  medicine)," he said. 
"It's something that draws them in  to using other substances."

Cough medicines generally contain the ingredient  dextromethorphan, 
which in large doses can cause a  euphoric feeling. It also causes 
dangerous side effects  in high doses, such as rapid heartbeat, 
disorientation  and hallucinations, according to information from 
Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

More Valley teens also are getting hooked on  prescription cough 
syrup that contains the narcotic  codeine, said Rosie Cavazos, 
service coordinator for  the New Vision detoxification program at 
Dolly Vinsant  Memorial Hospital in San Benito.

"I'm seeing a big increase in that now and in pain  medication," Cavazos said.

The program has an average of 20 to 30 patients a  month, and about 
one-third are adolescents, she said.  Several of those teens report 
taking prescription  medication in addition to alcohol and other 
drugs, she  said.

"They say it's easy to get hold of. They can find it in  the medicine 
cabinet," Cavazos said. "They'll even  exchange with each other."

Despite recent laws restricting access to cold and  allergy 
medications containing ephedrine, local teens  still report taking 
ephedrine to get high, said Ricardo  Garza, acting executive director 
for the Palmer Drug  Abuse Program in Brownsville. NyQuil, which has 
a high  alcohol content, is another popular choice.

The medications are all too accessible, Garza said.

"They go into the pharmacy and steal it, or a teenager  over 18 will 
buy it for them," he said.

Medications containing narcotics, such as Vicodin or  OxyContin, also 
are gaining ground among Valley teens,  officials say, and it might 
be happening right under  parents' noses.

"Parents might not realize that those pain medications  have 
narcotics. ... They need to know," Cavazos said.

Cavazos suggested that parents monitor their medicine  cabinets and 
throw out medicine they don't need. In  addition, they should 
supervise children's  prescription-medication use, she said.

"They shouldn't take more than is prescribed or ask for  more 
(refills) than is prescribed," Cavazos said.

However, parents should keep in mind that the problem  of 
illegal-drug use is much more widespread among  Valley teens than 
prescription-drug use, Garza said.  Parents should watch for signs of 
illicit-drug abuse as  well, he said.

"Marijuana and crack are still our number-one problems,  and it keeps 
getting worse and worse," he said.
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