Prescription pill abuse on the rise

Published 8:30 am Saturday, February 25, 2017

By Melanie Ruberti

LaGRANGE – Medicine cabinets are one of the most popular places for addicts to find their next fix.

Friends and local dealers came in a close second, stated Shannon Owensby, executive director of the Troup County Prevention Coalition.

“We reviewed the answers given on the recent Georgia Student Health Survey. It’s taken by students in sixth grade up to 12th grade,” Owensby explained. “The questionnaire is helpful to us because it asks the students (anonymously): ‘Where are you getting your medications?’ and ‘Why are you taking them?’ Most teens said they get them (pills) at a friend’s house. This shows us we need to educate the community and teenagers.”

The organization, which falls under the umbrella of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, recently started a new campaign to try and stop the abuse – especially among teenagers.

The group unveiled two new billboards last week – one located on Whitesville Street; the other along Hamilton Road. The signs read: Secure, Monitor, Dispose, and are aimed at making the community more aware of prescription drug abuse.

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in LaGrange – and around the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that one in five high school students has taken a prescribed drug without a doctor’s prescription, according to the state of Georgia’s website.

“Teens tell us Hydrocodone and OxyContin are the pills being most abused,” Owensby said. “But what we fear is it is an adult issue that filters down to the teens. Or for the teens, it starts with getting their wisdom teeth taken out or a sports injury. I’m not saying they shouldn’t take what they’re prescribed to ease the pain, but it would be good to communicate to teens the medicines should only be used for the injury.

“We (TCPC) hear more teens say they’re taking prescription drugs for a non-injury reason,” Owensby added.

The admission from teens also falls in line with what Sgt. Mark Cavender sees on the city streets of LaGrange.

Cavender is the head of the LaGrange Police Department’s Special Investigation Unit.

“Year in and year out, the problem of prescription drug use and abuse is a major problem across the entire country. We are no different,” he stated. “… (We see) Any type of Opiate based drug such as Norco, Oxycodone, OxyContin type pain pills. Couple these with the Benzodiazepines, such as Klonopin, Xanax and Valium … these would make up a vast majority of the pills that we see sold and abused in the city of LaGrange.  We also see a large number of people who abuse codeine based cough syrup.”

But unlike the Troup County Prevention Coalition, the SIU team sees the prescription drug abuse problem affecting teens, middle aged adults and senior citizens.

“… A larger number of older adults have been exposed to these drugs (Opiates and Benzodiazepines) due to health issues … and are becoming more and more dependent on them,” Cavender stated.

The LaGrange Police Department has partnered with the Troup County Prevention Coalition for several years now.

Both organizations seek to educate the community about prescription drug abuse through a variety of programs within the Troup County School System, plus presentations at local civic groups and churches.

“Be mindful of how many pills you are prescribed and how many you have in the prescription bottle on a daily basis,” Owensby said. “People who abuse pills will first seek to take one or two (pills) from family members when they’re not looking. Then they’ll progress to taking the whole bottle … keep all medications under lock and key.”

“All of the schools in our area do a great job with education and working with the police department to address drug related education at an early age,” said Cavender. “The biggest thing parents can do is be cognizant of what they allow doctors to give their kids … make sure there aren’t alternative medications that can be used in place of narcotics. Another thing they (parents) can do is go through their medicine cabinets. Don’t hold onto drugs you no longer need. Bring them to the police department or the Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) and we can get rid of them for you.”

In addition to the billboards, Owensby and TCPC hope to add more prescription pill drop off boxes around the county, plus roll out more abuse awareness programs throughout the year.

“We don’t want to just have individuals change, but a community change,” she stated. “The only way we can do that is by partnering with law enforcement agencies, the faith community, schools and government. We want to blanket our community with knowledge so they make great, healthy choices … you won’t see change until you get out into the community.”

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.