Jan 212004
Authors: James Baetke

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

Human Services.

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