Michelle Rindels
Staff Writer

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December 28, 2009
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When a parent's pills get in hands of a teen

Drugs such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin may be great for killing pain, but they're also creating new pains altogether.

Local law enforcement officials are taking steps to reduce the ugly side effects of prescription drug abuse and overdoses, which often start right in the mom or grandma's medicine cabinet.

"We have a high concentration of seniors," said Grass Valley police Capt. Rex Marks. "Oftentimes, their need for medications leads to a surplus of old medications."

Because they're difficult to dispose of and rarely locked up, it's easy for people - especially young people - to get hooked.

Members of the Nevada County Suicide Prevention Task Force are now getting involved in the effort to reduce unauthorized access to prescription drugs. After all, poisoning is involved in 83 percent of the nation's suicide attempts that require hospitalization.

"Removing the means doesn't change the intent," said Amanda Wilcox, who facilitated the task force's December meeting on the topic, "but less damage is done when there are less lethal means."

Accessing prescription drugs is relatively easy for most teens, and studies say they're taking advantage of that.

Prescription painkillers are the second most used drug among teens, with 3 percent saying they currently abuse them. Seven percent of teens say they currently abuse marijuana, according to a 2006 survey by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

They're also the drug of choice for 12 to 13 year olds, the survey said.

Most of these drugs come from friends or relatives. A full 70 percent of people who used pain relievers for non-medical reasons obtained them from a friend or relative, the survey said. Most got them for free, while some stole or bought the drugs.

But if people want to get rid of leftover prescriptions lying around the house, they hit a wall.

"We get folks coming in with bags full of meds and they don't know what to do about it," Marks said.

Throwing drugs into household waste makes them easy to find, and some are environmental hazards when incinerated at a landfill. Flushed down a toilet, they can contaminate the water system and cause birth defects. And it's not legal for most pharmacies and doctors' offices to accept returned prescription drugs.

The drugs lingering on the shelf after someone dies or when a condition subsides can be tempting. Marks said those drugs can be swiped by children, a house guest or even potential homebuyers touring a house.

After a few well-attended drug turn-in events, Grass Valley police installed a permanent collection bin inside their headquarters this summer. Residents have been disposing of expired over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs.

The secured bin averages between 30 and 60 pounds of pills every week.

To help with the volume of prescriptions, police worked to install a similar drop-off station about a week ago at the Kmart pharmacy in Grass Valley.

Residents who bring their pills for disposal should keep them in the original, labeled container, since it's important that police can sort the drugs before sending them to an outside contractor for destruction.

If residents are concerned about privacy, they can scratch out their own name on the pill bottle, but the drug name is important.

"We're not trying to charge people; it's not a trap," Marks said. "This is a public service to remove medications from circulation."

Members of the Suicide Prevention Task Force say that's one step closer to deterring suicide.

"There's a lot of things you can do after someone takes their life," said Mike Bratton, a task force member. "The whole key to this is how do we keep this from happening?"

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

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The Union Updated Dec 28, 2009 11:15PM Published Dec 28, 2009 11:04PM Copyright 2009 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.