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Creating Prescription Drug Awareness

Safe Community Coalition hosts panel discussion about prescription drug abuse.

Dr. Tilman Jolly, an emergency physician at INOVA Fairfax, Sgt. James Cox, supervisor of the Special Investigations Narcotics Squad and Money Laundering units for the Fairfax County Police Department and Van Huynh, head of the pharmacy department at the McLean CVS, speak at the McLean Community Center about the dangers of prescription drug abuse Wednesday, Oct. 17.

Dr. Tilman Jolly, an emergency physician at INOVA Fairfax, Sgt. James Cox, supervisor of the Special Investigations Narcotics Squad and Money Laundering units for the Fairfax County Police Department and Van Huynh, head of the pharmacy department at the McLean CVS, speak at the McLean Community Center about the dangers of prescription drug abuse Wednesday, Oct. 17. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

The Safe Community and the Fairfax County Police McLean District Station hosted a forum on prescription drug use and abuse Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the McLean Community Center. The 2010-11 Fairfax County Youth Survey showed that students in the Langley and McLean High School pyramids had comparable rates to the rest of the County with students who reported abusing prescription drugs in the last 30 days.

Countywide, 10 percent of seniors reported abuse within the last 30 days, which matches the 10 percent from the McLean pyramid, but the Langley pyramid reported 12 percent.

“We’re not calling it a huge problem, but we try to focus on the Youth Survey numbers, and between the numbers we’ve seen, and we’ve heard it mentioned from [McLean District Station commander] Capt. [Daniel] Janickey as well,” said Debbie Witchey, president of the coalition. “Once we started researching, we found some scary numbers. Seventy percent of accidental deaths in Virginia are due to prescription medicine abuse.”

Witchey said that in the course of their research, they found that teens were using prescriptions drugs for two primary reasons: to improve academic performance through drugs such as those for Attention Deficit Disorder, and for better athletic performance, to heal from injuries more quickly.

“A lot of people don’t realize is that [prescription medications] are the most abused kinds of drugs, more so than all illegal drugs except marijuana,” said Van Huynh, the head pharmacist at the McLean CVS. “They’re so readily available, kids have access to it. It’s something a lot of people turn a blind eye to. I see it in this community a lot at the pharmacy… our biggest drug problem isn’t on our streets, it’s in our medicine cabinet.”

Huynh says she regularly sees fake prescriptions for everything, mostly pain relievers and ADD medication, such as Adderall and Oxycontin.

Janickey said a major hurdle the police are trying to overcome is the underreporting of these types of problems.

“We really only see a lot of these cases when people hit rock bottom, they’re getting arrested for thefts and robberies, and a good amount of those people, when we have them in custody, talk about being addicted to some kind of prescription medication.”

THE COALITION’S RESEARCH has shown that the majority of teens believe prescription drugs are both easier to get and safer to use and abuse than “street” drugs.

“People think that there’s a guy in a trench coat selling them out of his pockets, but most kids get it from people they know,” he said.

Sgt. James Cox, supervisor of the Special Investigations Narcotics Squad and Money Laundering units for the Fairfax County Police Department, said when he started as a police officer in 1988, crack cocaine took over the area by storm, and police have been playing catch up ever since.

“I’ve been in narcotics for half of my career, and one of the biggest things we’ve seen coming up is legal drugs, prescription drugs,” he said. “I’m not knocking any profession, but there are dirty doctors, dirty pharmacists, people that go rob pharmacies. There’s a trickle down effect. Your kids might not be robbing pharmacies, but somebody is, and these drugs are getting to your kids.”

Cox called for a culture change in people’s houses, saying they shouldn’t store medicine in their “medicine cabinet” above bathroom sinks.

Dr. Tilman Jolly, an emergency physician at INOVA Fairfax, urged parents to get involved with their children before they ended up in front of him at the hospital.

“When they reach the hospital, on a stretcher, sometimes on a ventilator, because somebody took too much of something, that’s not an easy conversation to have,” he said. “They might have had an inkling, but now they’re at the point where their kid might die.”

Huynh said it is important for people to dispose of their unused medication, not to save their extra painkillers for a future problem.

“Once you’re done with medicine, throw it away. Remove your personal information from the bottle,” she said. “If it’s a non-controlled drug, dispose of it in the trash, if it’s controlled mix it with coffee grounds or something that makes it non-consumable, so people won’t get into it.”

ED DANOFF, owner and head pharmacist of the Medicine Cabinet in McLean, hosted a prescription drug drop-off before the event, where community members could drop off their unused medications in a secure drop box. They collected approximately 50 pounds of medicine during the event.