Like many communities across the country, rural Armstrong County, Penn. was seeing increasingly more cases of teens abusing prescription medications, such as pain relievers. To address this alarming trend, community leaders decided to take their education efforts straight to the parents and grandparents who are prescribed the medications.
Prevention and treatment advocates partnered with pharmacies in the area and launched an awareness campaign entitled “Drugs Kill Dreams.” Pharmacists agreed to provide anyone who picks up a prescription for a pain reliever a “prescription pain reliever alert” that educates consumers about the increased rates of prescription pain medication abuse, reminds them that it’s a criminal offense to share medication, and offers tips on what they can do to ensure the drugs don’t end up in the wrong hands.
“Our county spends thousands of dollars and manpower trying to bust drug dealers on the street, but some of the most dangerous and highly addictive lethal drugs are actually in the hands of unsuspecting legitimate, law-abiding citizens. The problem is many of them don’t understand the potential for abuse that these drugs have, especially when young people get a hold of them,” explained District Judge Gary DeComo, a longtime drug abuse prevention advocate who spearheaded the effort.
Various nationwide studies have indicated an upward trend of prescription drug abuse among young people, but what concerns prevention leaders is how most teens obtain the drugs—from their homes or friends. For example, “Teens and Prescription Drugs: An Analysis of Recent Trends on the Emerging Drug Threat,” a study released earlier this year by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, showed that 57 percent of teens who use prescriptions medications to get high say they get their drugs from a relative or friend, for free or without asking.
DeComo said most people who have pain medications are simply unaware of how widely abused these drugs are, and how appealing they are on the streets. “Almost everyone has some kind of pain reliever in their medicine cabinet back when they had an injury or illness, and now we have burglaries in homes and people are taking nothing but prescription pain relievers,” he noted.
Kay Owen, Executive Director of Arc Manor, Armstrong County’s drug and alcohol agency, said it’s particularly important to get a handle on the rising Rx abuse because often people who begin abusing pain medication move on to street drugs such as heroin.
“Prescription drug abuse and heroin go hand in hand. If you can’t get heroin, you get pain pills, and a number of people who start with pain pills move to heroin after the expense of the pills become too expensive,” she explained.
The “Drugs Kill Dreams” campaign is also targeting the general population through billboards on major highways, posters in visible areas and by handing out literature at community events.
Community leaders are also hoping their education efforts send a message to physicians about the importance of keeping their pain medication prescriptions to a minimum—and only to those who truly need it. Soon, DeComo and other organizations will also offer seminars for doctors about prescription drug abuse.
“Pain management is a very difficult issue for doctors, but we all have to be on same page here because some of our kids are getting ruined,” DeComo said.