Skip to content

Health & Parenting

Font Size

Prescription Pills: The New Drug of Choice for Teens

continued...

In December 2007, at a sentencing related to the bust, New Jersey State Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Thomas V. Manahan in Morris County described the Whippany teens' activities as "a large-scale drug distribution syndicate," adding that the abuse of prescription drugs "is not so much a plague on our society as a cancer that continues to grow." Rokoszak's family spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to plead for leniency — because the teen, as they put it, "is remorseful and has turned his life around" — but the 30-odd letters were of no avail: In February 2008, Judge Manahan sentenced Rokoszak to seven years in state prison (he must serve a minimum of five). Hearing the decision, his mother broke down, sobbing, "Oh, my baby, my baby."

Schools throughout the country have problems just like Whippany Park's. The difference is that there the authorities took action. But law-enforcement officials elsewhere are catching on, too. Seven youths, two still in high school, were recently arrested in Merrimack, NH, on charges of distributing the prescription painkillers Vicodin and Klonopin, as well as marijuana, to other high school students. In May, 75 students at San Diego State University were arrested in a massive bust where police confiscated vast quantities of illegal and prescription drugs, weapons, and $60,000 in cash. Among the coeds picked up: a criminal-justice major and a homeland-security grad student. Perhaps most disturbing, in February, 14 students at Castle View High School and Castle Rock Middle School in Colorado — one of them a 13-year-old seventh grader — were caught using or distributing Vicodin and oxycodone, acts which would be felonies if adults committed them.

None of these arrests surprises the experts. Pharmaceutical abuse has become so commonplace that it has filtered down to younger kids: Prescription drugs are now the number one illicit drug among 12- to 13-year-olds, according to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And their own kid's arrest or even conviction is not the worst thing parents have to fear from this epidemic.

Pretty Pills, and Deadly

Adults think of prescription drugs purely as medicine, but kids have come up with ways to create effects similar to what they'd experience from street dope — from crushing pills to circumvent timed-release controls to doubling or tripling dosages or simply downing handfuls. What's more, if parents are in the dark regarding these drugs' potential for abuse, they're also often blind to how deadly they can be.

"As a mother, I was worried about cocaine, crystal meth, and drinking and driving — but I had no idea prescription drugs were an issue," says Francine Haight, an R.N. who lives near Laguna Beach, CA. In the winter of 2001, her son Ryan, an A student and star tennis player, was looking forward to starting college later that year. So she suspected nothing that February evening when he arrived home from his job in the plant nursery of a big-box store. He spent some time in their Jacuzzi, then went upstairs to bed. The next afternoon, when Ryan still hadn't gotten up, his mother went into his bedroom to check on him. He was dead, from an accidental overdose of Vicodin, Valium, and a trace of morphine. He'd been prescribed these drugs over the Internet by a doctor he'd never met; the prescriptions had been filled online by a pharmacist he'd never seen. "He didn't understand the dangers," Haight says. "He knew everyone had pills like these, so he figured they couldn't be dangerous. The doctor wouldn't prescribe them for you, and the pharmacist wouldn't give them to you, if they could kill you, right?"

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
 
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
 
mother and daughter talking
Tool
child brushing his teeth
Slideshow
 
Sipping hot tea
Slideshow
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Article
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
 
tissue box
Quiz
Child with adhd
Slideshow