Teen Prescription Drug Abuse On the Rise

March 14, 2006 -- -- Jay was a nationally ranked tennis player, a good student, well-groomed. His parents had no idea he was going to school and to practice -- walking right past their faces -- stoned on prescription drugs.

"Percocets, Oxycontin, Xanax, Vicodin, Ritalin, Adderall," he said, reeling off a list of just some of the drugs he tried since he began abusing drugs at age 13.

Jay, now 17, said he had "black eyes" and "lost a lot of weight" and probably hadn't showered in a month when he checked into The Right Step, a small drug and alcohol treatment clinic in Houston. At first, he didn't want to be there.

He is not alone. According to psychiatrist Donald Hauser, The Right Step's medical director, pharmaceutical abuse is rampant among his young patients.

"By far, the most common trend I think we're seeing are sedative hypnotics, particularly Xanax -- 'bars' is what they call 'em -- and the opiates, the hydrocodone derivatives, the Vicodins, the Loracets," Hauser said.

"Almost every adolescent that comes in this program has used some of them."

National data support Hauser's observations. Last year's results of the Monitoring the Future study, an annual collaboration by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan, found a 26 percent rise in teenage abuse of Oxycontin -- a powerful opiate -- since 2002. Overall, the number of teens abusing prescription drugs has tripled since 1992.

The Candy Man Can

There's no shortage of ways that teens obtain prescription drugs -- raiding home medicine cabinets, calling in a parent's prescription, forging signatures or surfing the Internet.

Jay said you could find just about anything by simply roving school hallways.

"It's so easy," he said. "You just have to go to a candy man, the guy who sells drugs."

There is a culture of anything goes. At so-called "pharm parties," teens drop an array of pills into a bowl, then pass around the "trail mix" for the partygoers to "graze."

"They'll just reach their hands in there and just take a handful and just take them," said Ernest Patterson, The Right Step's adolescent program coordinator and a recovering addict. "It could be anything."

Wendy, another 17-year-old treated at The Right Step, said she has used Vicodin, Oxycontin, Soma and Xanax, and even tried a drug she knew nothing about.

"There is one pill that we discovered called Lorazepam -- I don't know what it is for," she said. "We found out one night when we took it and it messed you up, too, so we got into that for a while." Lorazepam is a sedative hypnotic in the family of drugs known as benzodiazapenes.

Over the Counter, and Into Your Living Room

Though the obstacles to acquiring prescription medication are low, there are highs that are even easier to obtain from over-the-counter drugs available on any drug store shelf.

Wendy said that the first time she tried "skittles" -- a street name for the common cold and flu medication Coricidin -- she downed the whole box -- 16 tablets. "You hallucinate," she said, "and you feel like you don't have any muscles ... you are in a room full of Jell-O."

Jay described how, by spinning a bottle of Robitussin on a string -- simulating a centrifuge -- users are able to extract the drugs that give the medicine its potency.

"There are actually drugs in Robitussin that come to the top and you just drink the drug and you hallucinate," he said.

Despite years using an array of drugs, Jay's mother said her son seemed normal.

"He was still making good grades," she explained, "still playing tennis. He looked like 'Mr. All-American', so who would think?"

Down to Earth

After using Oxycontin, Vicodin and Xanax for a year, Wendy finally crashed.

"I remember leaving school and taking Xanax and that was the last thing I remember," Wendy said. After 14 hours of searching, Wendy's mother found her in a garage, barely conscious.

"I know something happened to me sexually," Wendy said. "I don't even know who it was."

Two days later, she was at The Right Step.

"You have to have hit your bottom," she said. "For me it was almost dying, that's when I realized I actually did want to be alive."

Wendy relapsed after 60 days, but now she's back working hard at staying sober. Both she and Jay say they want to go to college -- right in the same neighborhood where they took the first right step toward sobriety.