Weather Forecast


COLUMN: Prescription drug abuse a growing threat in U.S.

Those of us who have been around a few decades can think back on the teenage and young adult "drug trends."

Heroin in the 50s...LSD in the 60's...cocaine in the 70's....angel dust in the 80's....crack cocaine in the 1980's-90's..."rave" drugs and meth in the 90's and now the new century...And of course, marijuana has been a constant.

That timeline is just a snapshot. Obviously, all of those drugs have been around through all of the decades and generations, to one degree or another. But sociologically speaking, there has been a specific "epidemic" that rises during certain periods-grabbing headlines; and filling treatment centers, and coffins.

Most prominent in the news now is abuse of legitimate prescription drugs. This abuse now ranks second to marijuana in terms of the number of young users.

And many of these potentially dangerous drugs are stolen right from the family's medicine cabinet.

A room full of educators, students and health professionals listened intensely to a father who lost a son-dead from an overdose of a prescription drug. The presentation was at the Perham High School commons April 22, and the guest speaker was Dan Pearson, who has become a crusader on the prescription drug issue-and has played a significant role in changing legislation.

"My son died Christmas Day, 2006," said Pearson to the group. "I spent more than an hour on Christmas day-holding my dead son in my arms."

There is a deadly perception among young people that, because these are "prescription" drugs-as opposed to street drugs-they are safe.

"Rogue" pharmacies had been filling orders online and on the phone. They skirted the law by conducting a "consultation" with the buyer (often an underage teen), and acquired a doctor's prescription-often a doctor from another country or overseas and far away.

One of the pharmacies was based in Bemidji, and thanks in large part to activists like Pearson, the operation was shut down.

In a span of 15 months, Market Pharmacy-Bemidji filled 4,389 mail orders in six states.

The company was fined $125,000.

But that bust barely scratches the surface, as 80 percent of the companies with pharmacy ads on Yahoo are operating unlawfully, said Pearson.

One of the most frightening trends presented by Pearson is the concept of "Pharm Parties."

"We're not talking about a 'farm party' here, which in my day was a keg of beer out on the back 40 acres," said Pearson.

Pharm parties are gatherings where prescription drugs are readily available in a potentially lethal mixture.

Often, mind-altering drugs like Zoloft, Prozac and Wellbutrin are taken in concert with powerful pain pills and tranquilizers.

Sometimes called "pharmaceutical cocktail parties," they have been known to have bowls of different prescriptions and users mix them up and take them together-often by the handful.

There were enough statistics presented to scare any parent-especially when you consider that three of five teens who abuse prescriptions drugs obtain them from family medicine cabinets.

One final statistic to think about out here in rural East Otter Tail County: This is not a "big city problem." The rate of deaths relating to prescription drugs are 7.8 to 7.9 per 100,000 of users, in rural as well as urban areas.

It seems like semi-rural areas like ours finally crawled out of the meth abyss. Now, we have another chemical abuse "trend"-and it could have a more devastating impact than those previous threats.