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Prescription Pills: The New Drug of Choice for Teens


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Annemarie Conte
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
Prescription pills are cheap, easy to explain, and even easier to score. But kids don't even realize how deadly their new drugs of choice can be.

It was just after dawn on one of those hot, sticky July days when the sun doesn't rise so much as slide up slowly like an egg poached by the humidity. Minutes earlier, a small platoon of police officers had eased their cruisers onto the side streets of Whippany, a prim New Jersey suburb. They drove past rows of vinyl-sided McMansions with fake-brick facades and matching Palladian windows, past Sports Authority basketball hoops and sleeping Audis and SUVs. Then, just like their cohorts from several other nearby towns, they parked and waited, the sweat trickling down under their Kevlar vests. More than 200 officers, each linked by radio to the task force headquarters, stopped at all-but-identical houses across three counties, pumped with the kind of adrenaline rush that comes from being part of a major takedown.

Less than an hour later, more than 50 kids and young adults with bed head, in T-shirts and flip-flops — many just roused by their shocked parents telling them that the police were at the door — stumbled into the central command unit to be processed. Among their number were recent graduates, star athletes, an actress in a school play, their wrists secured behind their backs with plastic handcuffs, just like they'd seen on Law & Order reruns.

At the center of it all was a baby-faced 18-year-old with gelled-back hair who was one class shy of graduation at Whippany Park High School. One of Evan Rokoszak's friends describes him as "sweet, goofy, and fun to be around." But for months leading up to that sweaty day in 2006, the police (later joined by the prosecutor's office in Operation Painkiller) had been investigating Rokoszak along with the students and recent grads involved in the drug ring he ran, which distributed and sold more than $50,000 of the prescription painkiller oxycodone each month — mostly to other students and alumni.

Almost daily, officers in Whippany had scanned the increasingly complex board at HQ that mapped out the key players in the business, praying that their own children's names wouldn't appear. Considering drug use was so rampant in the school that kids called it Whippany Perc (after the popular painkiller Percocet), how many students could remain untouched? "Everyone at school knew you could get pills from Evan if you were good friends with him," recalls a 2007 graduate who had attended school with the dealer for years. "Suddenly, everyone was good friends with him."

Statistically, too, the officers had reason to worry. Although high school drug use is down across the country, in the past 10 years the rate of prescription drug abuse among teens has risen steadily. Nearly one in five — 4.5 million — admits to abusing medications not prescribed to him or her, reported the 2005 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

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