Prescription drug abuse among teens is a significant problem affecting communities all over Vermont. Here in Windham County, 13 percent of our high school students have misused a stimulant or prescription pain reliever (2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey). According to a 2014 survey administered by West River Valley Thrives at Leland & Gray Middle and High School, roughly half of students polled don't believe that taking a prescription drug not prescribed to them would put them at "great risk." Of those who have misused a prescription drug, they did so in order to help them sleep, get high, or cope with anxiety and stress. These drugs were primarily purchased from a dealer and/or stranger.
This class of drugs targets the central nervous system and includes medications used to treat pain (e.g., Vicodin, OxyContin), ADHD (e.g., Adderall), and anxiety and sleep disorders (e.g., Xanax, Valium). Taken as intended, prescription drugs safely treat specific mental or physical symptoms. However, when taken in unmanaged doses or by someone without a prescription, these medications may affect the brain in ways similar to illegal drugs. A dangerous misconception is that these drugs are safer to abuse than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by doctors (teens.drugabuse.gov).
As a community, there is no doubt we are concerned about this issue. But what can we do to address it? Fortunately, there is a lot of momentum around this issue and plenty of initiatives have already begun here and around Vermont. For example, medical providers and pharmacists track prescription of controlled substances in the VPMS, or the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System. This allows both parties to track and manage a patient's history and be on the lookout for signs of abuse or addiction. Here in Windham County, we have prescription drug take-back boxes, located at the Windham County Sheriff's Department in Newfane and the police stations in Bellows Falls, Brattleboro, Wilmington, and Winhall. Anybody can drop unused or unfinished medication here. Additionally, our schools have partnered with local substance abuse prevention coalitions to implement programs and curriculums within the school that educate youth about these drugs and their associated dangers.
While these strategies have had some success (the percentage of students who had ever misused a stimulant or prescription pain reliever dropped from 20 percent in 2013 to the 13 percent previously mentioned in 2015 (Youth Risk Behavior Survey)), there is still more work to be done around this issue. For more information about prescription drug misuse among teens, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens at teens.drugabuse.gov or visit our local website at windhamrx.org. To get involved in local prevention efforts in the Townshend area, contact West River Valley Thrives at 802-365-4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.