Salisbury, NC -- Youths find escape through medicine cabinet
By Shavonne Potts
She also smoked marijuana for the first time at that age, she said, but quickly moved on to “pill popping,” regularly taking pain killers Hydrocodone and OxyContin and the tranquilizer Xanax.
She stole many of the drugs from her mother, who later said she knew Christian was taking them but was “waiting on me to tell her,” the teenager said.
Though she would sneak into her mother’s medicine cabinet to get pills, Christian said, some teens don’t have to do that because they can simply ask friends.
“It’s very easy to get them,” she said.
In the United States an estimated 2,500 teens try prescription drugs for the first time each day, according to a study by the Partnership for Drug-Free America.
The Post asked a group of teens of various ages and races to talk about their experiences with prescription drugs and what they know about their use among friends and classmates.
To protect the privacy of the students, the Post is not using their real names.Their high school is not being named for the same reason.
Getting pills is easy
Porchia, a 10th-grader, said most teens she knows get pills through prescriptions, either their own or someone else’s.
“They have a friend that’s sick or they will get sick,” she said.
Porchia estimates she knows 15 to 20 people who abuse some type of prescription pills. Those people range in age, she said, from 15 years old up to their 20s.
“The majority are my age or younger,” the 17-year-old said.
Christian said she knows teens who buy pills and others who sell pills they’ve obtained. Christian and Porchia said it’s easy for teens to find someone from whom they get the pills.
“It’s like a family on the outside. You have a bond. It’s like I know what they do and they know what I do,” Porchia said.
Porchia said while she has never intentionally taken prescription drugs to get high or taken any not prescribed for her, teens are buying and using those medications before, during and after school.
Sometimes, the consequences are not what the students intend.
In October, an East Rowan High School student went to the hospital after overdosing on morphine investigators say he got from a fellow student.
The student authorities say sold the pill, 17-year-old Bridget Tanner, is charged with felony sale and delivery of a controlled substance. She is scheduled for a January appearance in Rowan County District Court.
Attempts to reach East Rowan Principal Kelly Barger were unsuccessful.
Also in October, a 13-year-old overdosed at West Rowan Middle School.
Deputies discovered the child had taken several methadone pills obtained from a 14-year-old student. Investigators said the 14-year-old got the pills from a family member and charged Rickey Walter Fox, 56, of 400 Academy St., Cleveland, with trafficking in opium, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and other crimes.
Abuse on the rise
These cases don’t come as a complete surprise to authorities who say prescription drug abuse is increasing.
Through October, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office had seized 1,562 individual doses of illegally obtained prescription pills. In all of 2009, the Sheriff’s Office seized 1,030 doses.
While those statistics cover the entire county, authorities say more teens are abusing the drugs at school.
“We have discovered through our school resource officers and principals that it seems to be on the rise,” said Lt. Chad Moose, with the drug investigations unit.
Moose said prescription drug abuse isn’t happening at a particular school, but “it’s across the board.”
Some teachers and school administrators don’t realize the extent of what is happening, Christian and Porchia contend, but some do.
“I think they know, but don’t have the heart to say anything. I don’t think the school officials care,” Porchia said.
Lucy, a 17-year-old 12th-grader, said she believes school administrators know to a certain extent.
“I’ve been around students at school when they are high. Some students skip class to take prescription pills,” Lucy said.
She said, however, that some administrators may not be aware when students get high and attend class because teens are taking so many different pills that affect them differently.
Place of escape
So why do teens abuse drugs in the first place?
“With the way this generation is becoming, everybody has to fit in,” Porchia said.
She said it’s not just peer pressure, though, but a need for teens to “feel” something or ease their emotional pain.
“Kids feel like they are alone,” Porchia said.
“When I started smoking marijuana, that’s the way I felt,” Christian said.
Christian said she felt she had to take prescription drugs. She “popped” pills from age 11 until the age of 16.
“A lot of teens do drugs to cover up what’s going on in their lives,” Kelly, 17, said.
Her stepsister took drugs to “feel good about herself,” Kelly said.
Gina, a 17-year-old senior, met a girl who told her she took prescription medications because she had just moved and missed being around her family.
Many teens abuse drugs, experts say, to escape from life, to feel normal or to look cool.
Moose, with the Sheriff’s Office drug unit, said teens see prescription pills as more healthy than illicit drugs.
“They think it doesn’t look dirty. They steal it out of their parents’ medicine cabinet,” he said.
Teens are not just getting high by themselves. They make a party out of it.
Christian has in the past attended parties where teens dump prescription drugs into a bowl and then take what they want. They call them “pharming” parties because they’re using pharmaceuticals or “Skittles” or “rainbow” parties because the pills come in a variety of colors.
“It’s a trend we hear about,” said Ernest Kirchin, a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective who’s now with the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, an organization that deals with pharmaceutical abuse and investigations.
“These kids are taking these drugs and they have no idea what they are taking,” at pharming parties, he said.
Christian said that’s not always the case. She said most teens know what they are taking and more than likely only a few take a pill without knowing the effect it will have on them.
“The time I went, I knew exactly what I was taking. I guess I was a smart pill popper,” Christian said.
Of the eight teens interviewed, two — Porchia and Gina — said they had never heard of pharming parties.
“Someone said they were going to a rainbow party. I just thought it was where you go to a party with people wearing a bunch of different colors,” Gina said.
‘A lot of stress’
Christian said she no longer takes pills or smokes marijuana, and she stopped taking pills for awhile when she became pregnant at 14. At one time, though, she felt she needed those drugs.
“It was easy,” to take them, she said. “I had a lot of stress.”
Lucy said she felt at one time she needed to take Adderall, so she did.
The drug is typically given to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and makes others more alert and energetic.
“I took it to stay awake. I have two cousins in college and they take it to study,” Lucy said.
She compared Adderall’s effects on her to drinking two or three Red Bull energy drinks. She got the Adderall from someone she knew with a prescription for the drug.
Lucy said others in her social circle have abused Xanax; Klonopin (a type of seizure medication that can also be used to relieve panic attacks); OxyContin and other pain relievers; and Flexeril, a muscle relaxer.
Two other students, Kelly and Amanda, said they knew people who’d taken OxyContin.
Of the eight students interviewed, two acknowledged a one-time use or regular abuse of prescription pills.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.