Idle Hands

What factors have lead adolescents into a pharm frenzy?

     They're not just smokin' in the boy's room anymore.

     According to national drug surveys, it's more likely kids are popping pills in there. A combination of a drug-savvy kid nation with multiple technological avenues to pursue drugs, undetected and undeterred, has made a parent's medicine cabinet the most likely feed for the teen vice.

     "The problem today is truly the technologies," Joan Parkinson, an expert in counseling and director of parent education with the notMYkid organization. "The kids have just so much more awareness about them. They can go out on the Internet and find out everything ... about what drugs to use; how to do it; how to hide it, and then they find out about it from their peers through cell phones and everything else. Drugs are so much more available."

     Parkinson says the Arizona-based organization's geographical location plays a part in the state's drug issues.

     "We have 350 miles of border that are totally open," she says. "So we have drugs coming up by the ton, and we're only confiscating them by the pounds. So these kids have every availability to drugs: they can go down to Mexico and buy drugs real cheap and bring it back up here."

     However, the pharmaceutical drug phenomenon is not limited to border states. Though the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA's) Monitoring the Future (MTF) study reported overall drug use by teens in 2007 declined, the subcategory of prescription drugs was an exception. The MTF study details the popular prescription pills Vicodin and OxyContin holding steady for 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grader populations. Other reports show pharmaceutical pills meeting or surpassing overall marijuana usage.

Silent, odorless addiction

     A combination of social factors have contributed to the delinquency of today's youth, giving way to a drug trend that's held steady since it was first aggressively addressed in 2006 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Addiction treatment professionals and law enforcement have watched the prescription drug abuse and misuse trend hold steady with adolescents since then, with alarming consequences.

     It certainly wasn't cigarette smoke that sent nine middle school girls from Missouri to the hospital in March. After getting sick at school, the school resource officers, first responders and a drug enforcement task force came together at the middle school to investigate what was making so many girls sick — and more importantly, how they got it. The girls admitted to police that they took methadone, a pain reliever used to treat drug addiction.

     St. Joseph Police Sgt. Kevin Cummings says it is believed a high school boy passed the drugs to the girls on the bus. After taking the pills, the girls began to get sick and the school notified its resource officer. Once the girls were transferred to the hospital for methadone overdoses, Cummings says it was a news media melee when word of the young girls with the potent prescription drug in their systems hit.

     "Well, as soon as the girls were getting sick and all the ambulance were there, it turned out it was pretty serious because the news media swarmed all over that one," 32-year St. Joseph PD veteran Cummings says. "And it was — with nine girls going to the hospital because of it. They're all fine now: It only made them sick to their stomach."

     A similar incident occurred in Chandler, Arizona, at the high school where school resource officer Kevin Quinn — a 13-year veteran of Chandler PD — works. Quinn says a few years ago, he had a case where a girl had bought a bag of 30 pills on a trip to Mexico and shared them with her friends. After one of the recipients was sick in the nurse's office, she confessed.

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