Experts agree: Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions.
Officials in a multi-agency effort banded together to fight the OxyContin and prescription drug problems in San Diego County and educate the community through a series of community forums.
The Oxy Task Force of San Diego County attacks the crisis through a comprehensive approach from four key areas: law enforcement, government policy, public education, and prevention and treatment.
“Prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug behind marijuana in juveniles ages 12-17 and the most common abused in 12-13 years old,” said Detective Dave Ross with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and founding member of the Oxy Task Force.
The hot spots for Oxy abuse are Torrey Pines, Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Tierrasanta, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe.
In 2008, 51 people in San Diego County died of oxycodone-related deaths - three times the overdose rate for the year prior. Private drug treatment facilities throughout San Diego County tell task force officials that prescription drug treatment can comprise as much as 70 percent of their case load.
OxyContin is a brand name prescription painkiller typically prescribed to cancer patients. The main ingredient, oxycodone, is a synthetic opiate and classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II narcotic, meaning it has a very high potential for addiction and abuse. When taken orally, OxyContin it is intended to provide 12 hours of controlled pain relief.
“Kids start by buying one pill and they crush up a quarter of that pill and snort it just to see what it does. Then they start doing more and eventually they start smoking the pills. It gives them a rush of euphoria similar to heroin,” said Ross.
Oxy addicts smoke the pills by heating them on a piece of tin foil. The burning pills leave long, black streaks down the foil.
“They always keep the foil, always. If they can’t get any Oxy and they get desperate, they go back and re-smoke those lines for quick fix,” added Ross. “The average user smokes about two to four pills a day. At $40 to $80 a pill, it becomes a very expensive addiction.”
At a meeting for parents last month at Poway High School, Ross described how local pharmacies have become the target for Oxy thieves. About fifteen pharmacies have been burglarized in the last 12 months—some at gunpoint.
“A year before that we had none,” he added.
Oxy addicts will also steal jewelry and other valuables from their families, friends and neighbors to pawn for money.
Ross mentioned that the high price of Oxy almost invariably drives addicts to heroin.
“Heroin is going for $50 a gram on the street and it gives them an even better high,” he said.
Ross says he has spoken with hundreds of Oxy addicts. In a video interview that he showed to the parents, one addict named Josh described the typical Oxy user.
“It’s the popular kids that hang out all the time: athletes, kids on student government, all different groups,” he said.
Ross advised parents to search their children’s rooms and belongings for any paraphernalia like foil or hollowed out pens, which are commonly used to smoke the drug. He says cell phones and social networking sites are two of the main avenues for kids to buy and sell the painkiller.
“Look through their phones. Make them give you the passwords to their Facebook and MySpace profiles. Look for common slang terms for Oxy like OC, Ox, 80’s or Beans. You have to get involved,” he explained.
The Oxy Task Force will present to the Rancho Bernardo Community Council on Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at the Rancho Bernardo Library, 17110 Bernardo Center Drive, San Diego.
The Oxy Task Force and Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price will be making an informational presentation to the Mira Mesa Town Council on Monday, June 7 at 7 p.m.
Learn more about the Oxy Task Force of San Diego County on Facebook, search “Oxy Task Force,” and follow on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/OxyAbuseKills.