MOUNT VERNON — The misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medication is on the rise, and, according to a report cited by Scott Baker, DARE deputy with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, medication is now the second-most abused substance nationwide, surpassing marijuana. Beer, he said, remains the No. 1 most abused drug.
Recognizing the problem and being proactive, last February DARE officers implemented training about the dangers of prescription and other medications in junior and senior high schools around the county. Baker said the goal is to reach as many students as possible with the correct message. The training takes place in grades seven and nine.
“Kids are perceptive,” Baker said. “They understand how dangerous drugs are. One of the first questions I ask high school kids is, ‘Does anyone here think drugs are good for you?’ We talk about how most kids don’t use drugs, explain why, and we show them through statistics and real-life comments from other kids.
“The bad thing about prescription drugs,” continued Baker, “is many kids perceive medications as harmless. They’re prescribed by a doctor; they’re approved by the FDA, and so they must be safe. We teach that they’re safe if used correctly for the right person in the right way at the right time. That’s what’s make them safe.”
In teaching students to be safe with over-the-counter and prescription medicines, DARE uses material such as pamphlets and videos created in collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Abbott, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and PhRMA. Baker said the lessons include reading drug fact labels, responding to scenarios about mixing medications and when to use or not use them.
“I talk to them about cold medicines and stuff like that,” Baker said. “We talk about over-the-counter and prescription medication, discuss the differences and point out what to look for.”
Most young people know misusing medicine is harmful and that it is not good for you, Baker said, but whether they choose to abuse or not, that becomes a personal decision.
“What it falls back to,” he said, “is often what the family allows and what their friends find acceptable.”
In our pill-popping society, Baker said, student access to over-the-counter and prescription drugs is so much easier than obtaining other controlled substances.
“All you have to do is open up a medicine cabinet and there they are,” he said. “There is no doubt that kids are sneaking into medicine cabinets and getting drugs — it could be grandma’s stuff, or mom and dad’s. Parents have to take a proactive approach. They have to lock these things up and talk with their children about some of these issues. ... Some parents are doing the right thing. There’s no doubt about it. There are some who are not.”
Concerning drug possession in schools, Baker said, “I think the schools are outstanding as far as taking the initiative in handling any of the drug problems. I really do. The schools I deal with, if they have an issue or something that comes to their attention, they deal with it immediately and they take care of it. I’m happy to see that.
“However, it isn’t just a school problem. It isn’t just a law enforcement problem, it’s all our problem. The pills are coming from somewhere. They’re getting in the schools or to the factories or anywhere from some place. It comes from people who doctor shop, or who take their [legitimate] medication and skip a day and think ‘I need a little cash. I can sell a pill, and make $50, $60, $80 bucks depending on what it is.’ It’s a community problem.”
Baker said the Sheriff’s Office is attacking the problem on two fronts.
“We’re hitting them on the law enforcement part of it by tracking people who doctor shop, for example, and then with DARE in the schools, we’re doing the prevention part,” he explained.
The DARE prevention training also takes place in the summer. Baker said he speaks with young people during summer school classes at Mount Vernon High School and the Knox County Career Center.
He also said the DARE officers and community relations personnel from the Sheriff’s Office are available to community groups such as PTOs, 4-H clubs and any concerned citizen, to talk about what the community can do about prescription medication misuse.
“We’re very willing to talk to the community about this,” said Baker. “Like anything else, it’s a community problem. If we as a community want to take a stance against it, then we will. If we want to bury our heads in the sand, then that’s what people are going to do.”