WEIRTON - While addiction to prescription medication, such as painkillers, by those for whom they were prescribed is not new, national health officials have reported an increase in prescription drug abuse by others, including teens who seek them only for recreational use.
Members of Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention, a Weirton-based agency affiliated with the Brooke-Hancock Family Resource Network, and representatives of various agencies and community members involved with the group met Thursday at the Weirton Resource Center.
According to a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in 20 high school seniors reported using OxyContin for non-medical purposes in 2010 and nearly one in every 12 reported abusing Vicodin.
Seventy percent said they were given them by a friend or relative, according to the survey.
The teens are among about 7 million Americans in 2010 who were nonmedical users of psychotherapeutic drugs such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, according to NIDA, a federal government research center.
Jason Rine, Drug-Free Community coordinator for ASAP, said it's believed many use the drugs under the mistaken impression they are safe for everyone and under every condition, even in excess, because they are prescribed by a doctor.
Even worse, the drugs are believed to be gateways to heroin use because those addicted to them turn to the relatively more affordable illegal drug in an effort to satisfy their cravings, he said.
To make prescription drugs less available to those who would abuse them, the agency is encouraging those with unused, unwanted or expired prescription drugs to dispose of them at drop-off boxes placed at five public sites.
Resembling the mailboxes found outside post offices, the large, heavy locked boxes can be found at the Brooke and Hancock county courthouses and Weirton, Follansbee and Chester police departments.
At a meeting Thursday at the Weirton Resource Center, Rine said paper bags with information about prescription drug abuse and the drop-off boxes have been distributed to area pharmacies for them to use with their orders.
The group is encouraging parents to talk to their children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and to watch for symptoms, which can include fatigue, red or glazed eyes, sudden mood changes, secretiveness and withdrawal from family interaction and decreased or obsessive interest in school work,
More information can be found at the group's website at www.brookehancockfrn.org/ASAP.
Rine said the group also seeks Brooke and Hancock county residents to participate in a telephone survey regarding prescription drug abuse in the local community. He stressed participants' identities will be kept confidential and the surveys' purpose is to gauge the impact of prescription drug abuse on the community and how it is being addressed or should be addressed.
Those interested in participating should call (304) 748-7850.
The survey, drop boxes and other efforts are being funded by a $125,000 federal Drug-Free Community grant from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and a $14,000 Substance Abuse Prevention Service Grant through the West Virginia Bureau of Behavioral Health and Health Facilities.
In other business, Carole Scheerbaum, an agent for the Hancock County West Virginia University Extension Service, said about 15 Brooke and Hancock county businesses that sell alcohol have agreed to attend an April 15 program aimed at encouraging restaurants and bars to promote safe, responsible drinking in a positive way.
The businesses were recruited by Paul "Bud" Billiard, a member of the ASAP board.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)