As I look back on my career I think about some of the “drug epidemics” America has gone through. Some of these include heroin in the 1960s and 70s, LSD in the 70s, cocaine in the 80s, and more recently, methamphetamines. These are all drug trends that the media and popular culture have used to send shock waves through our collective consciousness by showing graphic details of illicit drug use, crime, babies affected by mother’s drug use while pregnant, and more.
Today, we still face challenges with all of the drugs I’ve named. But as we speak, a “new” trend is coming upon us and it’s one that at first glance doesn’t look so threatening. That is, the illicit use and abuse of prescription drugs, particularly the Opioids, which include drugs such as Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Methadone, and more. These are all powerful painkillers that have great potential use in treating many ailments and controlling pain.
In fact, because these drugs are medically approved for use and because they often come in pill form, it’s difficult for some people to think of them as dangerous. But the fact is that when used improperly, these drugs can be every bit as dangerous as any other drug of abuse on the street.
Briefly, Opioid based drugs are derived from the opium plant and are mainly designed to control pain. They also are effective in the control of coughing and stopping diarrhea. Used as prescribed, these drugs are normally safe but can be habit forming. That’s why they are always to be used under doctor’s orders and supervision.
However, this drug group can be dangerous when used and abused in ways that are outside of medical prescription. Some of the dangers include decreased respiration, overdose, increased tolerance, physical addiction, mental health problems and more.
To illustrate, recently, a 15-year-old high school athlete in Reno said goodnight to his parents, went into his room, took two methadone tablets and passed away in his sleep. This young man, whose name is Austin, was experimenting and didn’t know what he was getting into. The prescription drug related deaths of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Anna Nicole Smith may have grabbed the headlines but the tragedy of a 15-year-old boy in Reno cries out even louder because this could be anyone and it could be anyone’s child.
Austin’s parents contacted JTNN when they learned of the cause of his death and we have been meeting with them to talk about what we can do to stop this from happening to anyone else. Interestingly, he told his parents once that he would never try “methamphetamine” because of its danger. But he tried methadone – with fatal and tragic results.
We are now working with Austin’s parents, local law enforcement, the Washoe County School District, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, and more to develop a community wide strategy to help us keep prescription drugs where they belong and out of the hands of those that may misuse them.
A little methadone pill may not look as scary as a “crack” pipe or a methamphetamine lab, but it can be just as dangerous. JTNN is committed to bringing all of the resources and energy that we have to address the problem of prescription drug abuse.