By admin - Posted on 14 June 2012

The nation is experiencing a prescription drug abuse epidemic among its youth and Montana and Yellowstone County are not immune.

In 2010, one in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older — a total of 12 million people — reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And based on the data from the Drug Enforcement Administration, sales of these drugs to pharmacies and health care providers have increased by more than 300 percent since 1999.

Closer to home, with a single year of data available, 18.2 percent of Yellowstone County high school youth — and 18.4 percent of youth in the state — reported taking a prescription drug such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax without a prescription. The results are from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biannual survey of adolescent health risks and behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use, diet and physical activity conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The data is consistent with the 2010 Montana Prevention Needs Assessment and the 2010 Monitoring the Future study, state surveys similar to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, said Kristin Lundgren, director of Impact, a Yellowstone County United Way agency. In those surveys, Yellowstone County fares worse than the state overall.

Some 6.4 percent of Yellowstone County 12th-graders and 5.5 percent of the state’s 12th-graders reported using narcotic prescription drugs, such as Percocet, morphine, methadone, Demerol and others without a doctor’s order in the 30 days prior to the survey.“We’ve always heard of anecdotal incidents of use and abuse but now it’s borne out in the data,” Lundgren said. “The statistical data is very compelling. The rate of use is increasing. The use of prescription drugs is increasing faster than the use of marijuana. It’s concerning.”

In 2011, 20 youths between the ages of 13 and 18 were taken to St. Vincent Healthcare’s Emergency Department for “poisoning by drugs.” In the first five months of this year, seven youths were taken to the ER for that reason.

Between January 2011 and May 2012, more than 60 patients under age 18 were taken to Billings Clinic complaining of ingesting or overdosing on prescription or over-the-counter medication.

The report of fatal poisonings among 15- to 19-year-olds rose 91 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to the CDC, the nation’s public health agency.

Prescription drug abuse has gained so much traction locally that the Billings Police Department has designated an undercover prescription drug officer who has been assigned to a special Drug Enforcement Agency task force.

Part of the increased use is due in part, Lundgren said, to some youths discovering how these prescription drugs make them feel and then spreading their amateur knowledge. Part of the increase could also be due in part to the prevalence of painkiller and other mood-altering prescriptions among adults.

As the use of prescription medications increases, so does the creativity of youth looking for a thrill or the opportunity to experiment. Some youths buy the illegal drugs on the black market, where they are readily available; others will steal them from family members.

“Some are really good little con artists who will volunteer for the elderly and steal their medications,” Lundgren said. “They’re looking to have fun, escape depression and to escape boredom. And once they’re addicted, these people will do anything to say on these meds.”

The overriding concern with the widespread abuse of prescription drugs is the rising number of associated fatalities. The death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade, according to a CDC analysis. This analysis shows that more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers like hydrocodone (Vicodin), methadone, oxycodone (Oxycontin), and oxymorphone (Opana).

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy, calls prescription drug abuse a “silent epidemic” that is stealing thousands of lives and tearing apart communities and families.“Prevention is hard work,” Lundgren said. “We have to get to the deep causes of why they use.”

(, 13 June 2012)



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