Whitney Houston's death is putting the national epidemic of prescription drug abuse back in the national spotlight.
According to a 2011 study by the LA Times, more people die from drug overdoses than traffic accidents, and drugs like oxycontin, vicodin and xanax kill more people than heroin or cocaine combined.
Abuse of prescription drugs often starts young - among teenagers - when kids get hold of left-over painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs from their parents… and it's reached epidemic levels in our area.
CBS47’S Kathryn Herr spoke with some young adults who have been down this path of drug abuse, families of addicts, and police -- about what happens once the parent's prescription runs out.
Good families have found themselves dealing with the horrific cycle of addiction. At some of the best schools, in some of the best neighborhoods, there is a drug addiction that starts right in the home, from the family medicine cabinet.
Lindsay Winter was a cheerleader and athlete at Bullard High School in Fresno. “I was a great student I was a hard worker and the anxiety and pressure from high school became too much and once i got that release, it was done from there on,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay was offered the pain killer oxycontin by her boyfriend. “I hid it pretty well for the first year; my parents didn't know. I continued to go to school. I continued to go to work. But it just began to take my life over before I knew that it was.
Lindsay followed the path of many addicts; when taking the pill didn't offer the same high, she crushed the oxycontin, and injected it. That led to heroin, which was much cheaper. “…and once I was already injecting oxycontin, why not inject heroin, it's the same high. Once I had gotten that high, it didn't matter anymore,” said Lindsay.
The same time Lindsay was doing drugs, across town in Clovis, Cameron Hicks was dealing with a similar addiction.
Like Lindsay the cheerleader, Cameron was popular too. He was a football player at Buchanan High School. Cameron’s sister Kelsey said, “He was just the guy that everybody loved.”
Kelsey says her brother was offered oxycontin by a friend on his 16th birthday. Cameron managed to keep the drug use hidden and even managed to get a college scholarship, but the drugs were like a magnet. “He would bring it home. My mom walked in on him. I found it in the bathroom. When he started bringing them into our home was when it was rock bottom for us,” said Kelsey.
Cameron lost his scholarship.
Lindsay landed in prison. “It was the change that I needed,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay lost her driver's license because of drugs. She now lives with her parents and even though she's clean, her life isn't the same. “Every aspect is different... not only did it take my freedom away but it took over who I was and who I think I was originally intended to be." said Lindsay.
An undercover narcotics sergeant with Clovis police says the abuse of prescription drugs by teens has become a raging epidemic. “You can stop a junior in high school on the street and they're displaying symptoms of opiate abuse. Well they're not using heroin. They don't have needle marks. Where are they getting this? Then we learn it's prescription opiates,” said the sergeant.
He says the opiates like oxycontin and vicodin are often left-over from a prescription written for mom or dad. The parents take what they need after surgery or an injury and the rest sits in the medicine cabinet.
Kids may steal the pills from their grandparents, and even get them from real estate listings.
Flindt Andersen, runs Prescription Abusers in Need or PAIN. Andersen said, “We've had kids who have gone to real estate openings on weekends and go through open houses and go through people houses and cabinets to see if there are drugs in there.”
PAIN is an organization to help abusers and their families. ”One of the biggest issues we're facing is parents usually can’t tell when their kid is using these particular drugs. It's when they stop using these drugs that their behavior becomes erratic, their tempers flare,” said Andersen.
Andersen says temper is just one sign to look for. Weight loss and the appearance that your child always has a cold, constantly tugging at their nose is another. Andersen also said, “Are there spoons missing from your drawer? Are there cheese graters missing from their drawer are you finding those in their bedrooms?”
Andersen runs a support group for families like Kelsey and her parents. Kelsey said, “For us, it was an everyday battle that people had no idea about - would never have guessed. Christian family - go to church…”
Kelsey’s brother is now a recovering addict and clean. She’s now trying to help others. Lindsay speaks to high school students alongside Flindt, to try and reach kids at an early age. On this day, they were at San Joaquin Memorial High School.
Alexandria Le at San Joaquin said, “I didn't know it started that young and went on for that long. I just never really thought it could happen to people like me.”
Josh Pitta said, “Especially now at this age, we'd be like – let’s experiment. You really get hooked on it really fast. That was kind of a scary thing.”
The message to parents from those who have been through this - don't leave prescription drugs sitting in your medicine cabinet. If you have leftover vicodin, xanax, or anything else… get rid of it. Drop it in one of the special boxes that are now in Fresno and Clovis to take old prescription drugs. Fresno County Drop Box Locations:
Clovis Police Headquarters
Fresno Sheriff's Department
Fresno State Police Department
Mendota Police Department
Orange Cove Police Department
Parlier Police DepartmentTips for parents:
- Don't assume it can't happen to your child.
- Look for those signs of drug abuse - the weight loss, temper, changes in behavior.
- Test your child for drugs and do it often and at random times so they're caught off guard.
Click the related links for some online resources for prescription drug abuse.