Oakland County raises awareness about youth prescription drug abuse

Ā­Oakland County has launched an initiative to address the emerging problem of prescription drug abuse among pre-teens, teens and young adults. County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, joined by Oakland County 51st District Court Judge Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, Oakland Community College Dean of Nursing and Health Services Lori Przymusinski, and Oakland County Health and Human Services Director George Miller, announced a partnership that includes the Oakland County Sheriff to raise awareness of the issue among youth and their parents.

"Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States today, especially among teens," Patterson said. "We want to enlist parents in making teens aware of the dangers and consequences of prescription drug abuse."

The awareness initiative will include publishing a parent's guide about prescription drug abuse, an advertising campaign to raise awareness both in the community and schools, and forums with high-profile former DEA agent Robert Stutman.

Oakland Community College, the presenting sponsor, will bring Stutman to the area on Tuesday, Oct. 28, to speak to high school students, physicians and the community. Stutman, the former head of New York City's DEA office, will speak to students in the morning at Walled Lake Western High School. That event will be available to Oakland County high schools via a live stream. In the afternoon, Stutman will host a one-hour discussion with physicians and nursing students, followed by a two-hour community forum in the evening at the Oakland Community College Royal Oak campus.

According to Stutman's website, www.thestutmangroup.com, an average of 100 people die each day from a drug overdose in the United States. "For the past few years, more young people have died from prescription drug overdose than from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine combined," Stutman said.

To register for the Oct. 28 event, visit prescriptionabuse.eventbrite.com.

Judge Debbrecht Switalski, founder Regional Anti-Drug Education and Outreach or RADEO program, brought the issue of youth prescription drug abuse to Patterson's attention after seeing many teens in her courtroom struggling with the addiction. She has seen firsthand how prescription drug abuse is a gateway to using heroin. The county executive then directed Health and Human Services Director George Miller to have the county's Health Division create an awareness campaign.

"We don't have a heroin problem-we have a prescription drug problem that morphs into a heroin problem," Debbrecht Switalski said.

"The victims of this addiction are our straight-A students, our athletic stars, and even America's finest. Our children are the new faces of addiction. It is not someone else's kid anymore."

Debbrecht Switalski said the sooner communities act to address a drug problem, the greater the chance for success. "Recent studies show that 90 percent of people who become addicted to drugs begin using when they are teenagers. By the time that school officials, treatment providers, judges and parents even realize that there is a problem, the addiction has taken hold," she said.

In the future, the Health Division would like to see the awareness effort grow into a peer-to-peer counseling program modelled after one begun last year at Lake Orion High School. Lake Orion Community Schools initiated a program of student-to-student support called Students Offering Support or SOS to address teens facing mental health and other crises. More than 250 student volunteers have banded together under school direction to create awareness of and break down the barriers to their peers getting help.

Often, access begins with a prescription from a doctor, from a trusted friend, or from the family's medicine cabinet. Parents are encouraged to take the following steps to help prevent prescription drug abuse:

- Talk to your children about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.

- Know your child's friends.

- Supervise your child's activities.

- Monitor prescription medication in the home.

- Lock up medications.

- Monitor where your children spend time and their surroundings.

- Properly dispose of unused and expired medications.

Parents should also watch for these signs of prescription drug abuse; however some abusers do not exhibit warning signs. Warning signs include: missing medications from family members, dramatic changes in appearance or behavior, excessive overā?theā?counter medicine use, abrupt mood swings, always looking for money, continued use of the prescription drug, and missing valuables.

Published: Fri, Sep 26, 2014