The drug hype of the 1990s was anchored on ecstasy; a simple
pill that creates an intense sexual high and drought-like thirst
for the user. For some, ecstasy still may be the drug of choice,
but parents today are learning that their own medicine cabinet can
be a haven for their children looking to catch a high.
Prescription medication is making an impact with drug abusers
across the nation. Painkillers, especially those designed as
timed-released, are being chewed or snorted by drug users. Even
cough syrups and cold tablets, principally those containing
dextromethorphan, are being ingested at quantities other than
Judy Gingery, director of the Colorado Prescription Drug Abuse
Task Force, is all too familiar with the abuse of prescription
drugs. Being a member of the task force since its genesis in the
early 1980s, Gingery said medication being abused in Colorado has
always been an issue.
“The access of drugs is rampant,” Gingery said. She said parents
need to be aware of what is in their medicine cabinets and closely
monitor the quantity to assure none is disappearing.
Gingery recently lost a young family member of her own to the
abuse of morphine and said she is even more driven to educate and
prevent young people from taking drugs like Oxycontin, Vicadin and
Ritalin as high inducers.
The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the Colorado Department
of Human Services released a December 2003 report stating
prescription drugs, especially oxycodones, are creeping up on
Coloradoans as one of the newest types of drugs in the state.
Bruce Mendelson, the author of the report, said that while other
drugs like crack and heroine are losing strength on the streets,
narcotic analgesics including hydrocodone, hydromorphone, codeine
and oxycodone are becoming a “small but increasing problem.”
“In Colorado, Vicadin and other opiates (other than heroin) are
on the rise and increasing,” Mendelson said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the
diversion of Oxycontin continues to be a “major problem” in the
Rocky Mountain West. It sells on the street for $1 per milligram,
which is 10 times the legal prescription price. The DEA also
reports that pharmacy break-ins are common throughout the Rocky
Mountains, with Oxycontin leading the list of drugs stolen. Also,
across the state, clinicians are anecdotally reporting increased
use of Vicodin and Oxycontin.
In 2001, nearly three million 12- to 17-year-olds and seven
million 18- to 25-year-olds reported abusing prescriptions
medications, according to the National Household Survey on Drug
The survey also found that pain relievers such as Oxycontin and
Demerol were the most highly abused drugs in their class while
stimulants, tranquilizers and sedatives followed behind.
Despite the statistics, users are still getting access to doctor
prescribed medications from many different sources.
According to Gingery, the sources vary and are available through
a “hierarchy of pushers.” With young people, they tend to find
their prescription medications in their own home by stealing and
sneaking their parent’s pills. Ginergy said parents are often
completely unaware of the fact that a high can be produced from
things like painkillers or even over-the-counter drugs.
Scammers who claim pain to their physicians for false ailments
obtain the drugs and then push them on the street as “Oxys” or
“hillbilly heroin,” Gingery said. In most cases, doctors are just
trying to help their patients rid themselves of the pain they feel.
A minuscule percent of practitioners knowingly write false
prescriptions for those who don’t need medicine and these “doctor
shoppers” pay high dollar for the drugs.
“(Narcotic analgesics) are very nice drugs. We do not want them
to go away,” Gingery said, emphasizing many people need drugs to
cure or reduce the pain of ailments.
Gingery said there are also many doctor’s offices and places of
business that are broken into, resulting in drug theft.
Michael Polzin, a corporate spokesperson speaking on behalf of
the three local Walgreen’s drug stores, said Walgreen’s pharmacists
watch closely for customers who show signs of addiction or
“Our pharmacists and doctors work together to monitor patient’s
drug usage,” Polzin said.
Among the 4,000 Walgreen’s nationwide, Polzin said that a day
probably does not go by without a forger successfully filling a
Mendelson and Gingery said the treatment for those addicted to
medications is adequate in Colorado, but the number of treatment
centers needs to increase to handle the ongoing demand for
As drug costs continue to rise rapidly, U.S. consumers are
projected to spend more than $250 billion on prescription drugs by
2006, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Health and