WASHINGTON, July 26, 2006 -- Their testimony at times elicited anger, and at other times sadness. But the three women who spoke to members of Congress today were clear on their message: Do something now, or the nation will continue to lose children to the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
"It is with a heavy heart and eternal love for my son that I share his story today, to hopefully prevent other families from having to suffer the same heartache," Misty Fetko said, choking back tears.
Fetko's son Carl died in 2003 after taking a lethal mix of cough medicine, marijuana and Fentanyl, a powerful prescription narcotic for pain. Fetko told a House subcommittee she became suspicious after finding a few empty bottles of cough syrup in their house, but never knew that her oldest son had abused cough medicine for almost three years before his death.
"We will never know why Carl made the wrong choice to abuse prescription and over-the-counter drugs," Fetko said. "We only know parts of his story by the words he left behind in his journal. His words are now silent."
Carl Fetko's death is just one case in what medical experts are calling an epidemic.
According to government statistics, prescription drug abuse is second only to marijuana abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 6 million people are currently abusing prescription drugs. The problem is most acute among young people. When it comes to the powerful painkiller OxyContin among 12th graders for instance, abuse has increased 40 percent in the past four years, NIDA figures show.
OxyContin caused the death of Barbara Van Rooyan's son Patrick two years ago. But in his case, he had no known history of drug abuse.
"He made the tragic mistake of believing someone at a Fourth of July celebration when he was told that OxyContin was 'sort of like a muscle relaxant, that it was prescription and FDA approved, so therefore safe,'" Van Rooyan testified.
The mothers in both cases say the common problem was that the prescription drugs that helped kill their sons were and remain readily available. They can be easily obtained through the Internet. That's how Linda Surks' son Jason obtained the drugs that killed him in December 2003.
"We learned that he had visited several online pharmacies and ordered drugs from one Mexican pharmacy online," Surks testified. "We found indications that this pharmacy automatically renewed his order each month. It was a simple process of a few clicks and the drugs were delivered right to his door."
"The internet is emerging as the root of future drug abuse," says Mathea Falco, president of Drug Strategies, a nonprofit research institute. "Kids are able to obtain these drugs without even the pretense of a prescription."
House subcommittee members discussed ways to pressure Internet service providers and credit card companies into making it tougher for potential abusers to obtain prescription drugs without documented permission from a licensed physician; dispensing drugs without such permission is illegal in most states.
But they also talked about educating children as well as parents about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Falco says a larger number of parents, compared to their children, believe that abusing prescription drugs is somehow safer than abusing drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin.