Parents don’t bring home illegal drugs and leave them out on the kitchen counter. Presenters at the annual State of the Child Conference last week in Havelock said some parents essentially do just that when they leave prescription drugs out in the open.
The annual conference at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center focused on prescription drug abuse among teenagers, the effects of that abuse and how to prevent it.
“It’s a big problem in our communities,” said Debbie Hodges, a member of the committee that organized the event. “Prescription drugs are in everybody’s homes. Parents feel like they can protect their children from things like heroin and meth and drugs you can get on the street, but everybody brings prescription drugs into the home. You have an injury, you have a tooth removed, and you just sit it there on your counter in front of your teenager or in front of their friends.”
The conference, in its 10th year, picks a new topic on which to focus each year. Carol Mattocks, a member of the organizing committee, said prescription drug abuse was the obvious choice.
“Prescription drug abuse is a national epidemic,” she said. “And, unfortunately what we see nationally we also see statewide and locally. Prescription drugs, while one of the wonderful, wonderful miracles of today that can keep us pain free and make us well, can be abused and misused and are, particularly by our youth.”
A 2013 survey revealed that 5.7 percent of students in Craven, Carteret, Pamlico and Jones counties used prescription medication without a prescription in the past 30 days. Other studies cited during the conference showed that prescription drug abusers could get almost any drug within a day, and many within an hour. Another study showed that 70 percent of teens who use prescription drugs without a prescription get those drugs from the home.
“I have yet to see any home that doesn’t have a medicine cabinet stocked full of prescription drugs,” said speaker Tanya Roberts, of N.C. Operation Medicine Cabinet. “The teenagers think they must be safe. Mom takes them and dad takes them.”
However, Dr. Wilkie Wilson, a research professor of prevention science at Duke University, pointed out that prescription drugs are not always safe, though often the perception is that they are because they are legally prescribed.
“An opiate that’s a prescription drug can kill you just as effectively as heroin can,” he said. “They are as equally as powerful in some cases.”
Though deaths from abuse may be widely publicized, he said abuse of prescription drugs can have negative effects on brain functions.
“Why would anyone want to poison something they really care about, which is their brain,” Wilson said. “Once you frame it that way, we believe it will become easier for kids to make the right decisions.”
He said the key to prevent prescription drug abuse among teens is education and accessibility.
“The worst thing that people do is leave their drugs in the medicine cabinet, so kids can get their hands on it,” he said.
Hodges said parents feel their teens wouldn’t abuse prescription drugs, and that may be true, but the same may not hold true for their friends.
“This monster could knock on my door at any time,” she said.
The Coastal Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention, which serves Craven, Carteret, Pamlico, Onslow and Jones counties, sponsored the conference. For more information, go online to www.ccsap.org or call 252-649-1615.