Desk of the DA: “Parents as Unsuspecting Drug Dealers”
Among my most important responsibilities as Westchester County District Attorney is promoting public safety, and as a parent, I am especially concerned about dangers facing our children and particularly our teenagers. One topic that deserves our close attention is the increasing rate of abuse of prescription medicines, over the counter medicines and inhalants in household products – items that can be found in any home.
The problem is urgent. Children are much more likely to use and abuse substances found at home than they are to try street drugs. Everyday, 2,500 teenagers use a prescription drug to get high for the first time, and 60% of teens who have abused prescription painkillers did so for the first time before age 15. A 2009 survey of teens reported that 20% of teens in grades 9-12 had abused prescription drugs at least once, that 8% had abused a cough medicine in the previous year, and that 10% had used inhalants in the previous year.(www.drugfree.org) Inhalants are of particular concern with younger adolescents, as reported rates of abuse of these substances is highest in the 8th grade. (www.drugabuse.gov)
Prescription drugs include such medications as Adderall and Ritalin, which are prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but are also illegally sold or shared with others. Teens are taking these medications to stay up and cram for exams, or they are grinding the pills up and snorting them to get high. This kind of improper use carries the risk of heart attack, stroke, hallucinations and paranoia. (www.justice.gov/dea)
Perhaps the most frequently abused prescription medications are narcotic pain relievers sold under brand names like OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin. Taking these medications as prescribed to relieve pain can carry the risk of addiction, and consuming larger doses without medical supervision only magnifies this risk. When chewed or snorted, oxycodone creates an instantaneous high, a concentrated effect that can slow breathing, causing death. ( www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs )
Over-the-counter medications are readily available and potentially dangerous. Cough and cold medications containing DMX, or dextromethorphan, can create a feeling of euphoria and cause hallucinations when taken in large doses. This form of drug abuse, often referred to as “robotripping”, is glorified in hip hop music, and its danger is trivialized as teens mix cough syrup with soda and candy, such as Skittles or Jolly Ranchers, to serve “sizzurp” at parties. (www.goaskalice.columbia.edu)
Household products such as aerosols and solvents present problems as well. Children and teens inhale the fumes produced by these everyday products – including whipped cream, spray paint, compressed air for cleaning keyboards, and cleaning supplies. This misuse of inhalants to get high carries an immediate risk of death or organ, brain or nerve damage.
These are the steps I am urging everyone to take in order to protect our teens.
· Keep track of your family’s prescriptions.
· Get rid of any unused prescription medication by returning it to your pharmacist for disposal, or bringing it to one of Westchester County’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Days (April 9th and 10th at Rye Playland; for other dates, visit www.westchestergov.com); for environmental reasons, it is recommended that you not dispose of medication in the sink or toilet.
· Remove any personal information from empty prescription bottles to prevent someone from illegally obtaining a refill.
· Monitor your children’s use of over the counter medicines.
· Be alert to chemical odors on breath or clothes, paint stains on skin, slurred speech and lack of coordination, as these may indicate the use of inhalants.
· Always ask where and with whom your children are spending time.
· Get help if you think your child has a problem
To schedule a presentation on this topic, please contact the District Attorney’s Office of Community Affairs at 995-3317.