The South Orangetown Community Awareness of Substance Abuse and the District Attorney's Prescription Drug Task Force teamed up to present its first ever Prescription Drug Symposium Thursday morning at Rockland Community College.
The morning session featured talks from Rockland County District Attorney Tom Zugibe, Chris Goldrick discussing the Drug Task Force, Rockland County Sheriff Lou Falco and Department of Mental Health’s Chemical Dependency Services Director Anne Calajoe. The keynote address was going to be given by Steven Kipnis, MD, the medical director of the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, but the night before the event a family emergency came up. He was replaced by Dr. Michael Rader, vice president and medical director of Nyack Hospital.
Rader defined a drug as any substance that modifies body function and said people don’t get addicted to drugs, but instead get addicted to their reactions to drugs.
“What the drugs do is enhance the brain chemicals, so you actually become addicted to your own chemicals in your brain,” he said.
He said there are a variety of reasons people take drugs, including to have fun, to cope with trauma, to relieve depression, anxiety or pain, for religious practices, to rebel or to enhance social interactions, which Rader said he thinks is the most common reason. He also said that anybody can start using and become addicted to drugs.
“You can’t look at people and decide who’s using drugs and who has potential to be a drug user,” Rader said. “It can be anybody. It transcends race, gender, socioeconomic status or sexual preference.”
With college students, Rader said some use caffeine and cocaine to help stay awake to study, while others use Adderall and Ritalin to help concentrate. He said studies have shown that 34 percent of college students have used prescription stimulants when they felt academic stress, and students who do that are “more likely to have a lower academic average, be heavy alcohol drinkers, use illicit drugs, be alcohol and/or marijuana dependent and miss class more frequently.”
The problem with that, or taking ADHD medication, which Rader talked about as well, is when people are taking things not prescribed to them.
“Prescription drugs when taken as directed for legitimate medical purposes can be safe and effective,” Rader said. “Prescription drug misuse occurs when a medication is not used by the person it was written for, or in the intended matter.”
People can get prescription drugs from various places, Rader said, adding that in adults ages 18 to 49 who have never been diagnosed with ADHD, more than half of people who take medication for ADHD get it from friends or family members. Other ways include stealing it, obtaining it fraudulently from a doctor, buying it from a friend or relative or from an online pharmacy. Online pharmacies are becoming an issue, Rader said, because people pay doctors to fill out prescriptions for medication and the doctors just mail the prescriptions to that person.
Cutting down on the availability of the prescription drugs is partly what Falco talked about. He spoke of the local program called Operation Medicine Cabinet.
“That’s a collaborative effort with the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and all the police departments in Rockland County whereby once a month we partner with a different police agency from the sheriff’s office to collect these drugs from people in Rockland County,” Falco said.
He added that kids are getting prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets, their grandparents’ house, from houses they’re at babysitting. Falco also talked about skittle parties, where to get in you have to bring a prescription drug, which are then all dumped into a bowl. The party-goers spin a bottle and whoever it lands on grabs a pill from the bowl and takes it.
“The young adult does not know what they’re ingesting,” Falco said. “They’re just reaching in, whatever the put their hand on, whether it’s OxyContin, whether it’s heart medication, whether it’s Xanax, it doesn’t matter. It’s something that shouldn’t be in their body in the first place.”
He said they hold Operation Medicine Cabinet the second Saturday of each month at a different police department.
“It needs to be turned in because we incinerate it,” Falco said. “A lot of people when they’re done think they’re doing the right thing, and they take it and put it in their toilet and they flush the toilet. Well, that’s getting down into our water system, so we don’t want that. We want you to turn it in. The sheriff’s office and district attorney’s office, once a year, we go up and we have it incinerated this way it’s done right and it’s not getting into our water system.”
He said the first year they held the program, in 2009, they collected 300 pounds of prescription pills in about five months. In 2010, they collected almost 700 pounds This year they are at about 300 pounds. He added they have probably collected millions of dollars worth of prescription drugs. A pill of OxyContin can go for about $90 when bought on the street.
“Please take advantage of it,” Falco said. “Turn your drugs in that are expired, turn your drugs in that you no longer need and use. Let’s get them off the street and keep them away from our youth.”
Rader added that it is the youth who are heavily affected by prescription drug use, noting that prescription drugs are the drug of choice for 12- and 13-year-olds to use to get high. He also cited a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report from 2009 that said 20.2 percent of high school students have take prescription drugs without the prescription.
He also showed some statistics about deaths resulting from prescription drug use in recent years. In 2007, there were 27,658 unintentional drug overdoes deaths in the United States. Rates of overdoes deaths are four-five times higher than they were during the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and in many states unintentional drug overdoes deaths out-number deaths from motor vehicle accidents, including New York, which has had more unintentional overdose deaths since 2006. From 1999 to 2007, more than 8,000 New Yorkers died from unintentional drug overdoes.
The evening program begins at 7 p.m. in the Rockland County Community College Technology Center's Ellipse Room and is scheduled to go until about 9 p.m.