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By Taylor Sisk
It was the numbers, said Patrick Deegan, that resonated with him, the number of kids who’ve died from prescription-drug overdose.
Deegan, an eighth-grader at Woods Charter School in northern Chatham County, between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, had just attended a presentation delivered Wednesday by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper to Woods middle-schoolers about the dangers of prescription drugs – most particularly, opioids (OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, for example). Cooper was also there to make the kids aware of the Stop Rx Abuse contest his office cosponsors.
The contest challenges young people to create a 30-second public service announcement video on teen prescription-drug abuse. It’s open to any high school or middle school student in the state, and is also sponsored by the N.C. Parent Resource Center, the Governor’s Institute on Substance Abuse and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.
Deegan said that he and his friends don’t talk much about prescription-drug use. Cooper said getting kids to talk more about it is the objective of the contest.
It’s not that kids aren’t aware of the issue, Cooper said. In fact, he said, “The kids know about it more than the parents do. They know about taking prescription drugs. I think the parents and educators and law enforcement are catching up to that.”
“But the gravity of what they’re doing – I’m not sure they know,” he said.
Cooper said that given the potency of these drugs, “What we’ve got to do is make sure the kids understand what a dangerous game they are playing.”
It’s difficult to get the message to truly resonate when it comes from adults, no matter how trusted, he said, which is why his office launched the video contest, “as a way to get young people to find out the facts for themselves and begin talking about the problem,” and then to convince each other.
“It’s not the ads as much as it is the process of making of them.”
About those numbers …
“I know your parents and your teachers and other adults have talked with you about the dangers of alcohol and the dangers of use of illegal drugs,” Cooper told his Woods Charter audience.
“But we’ve found that many parents, teachers and other adults don’t talk enough about the use of prescription drugs.”
He spoke a bit about those numbers Deegan alluded to, pointing out that “far more people have died from overdose of prescription drugs than have from overdose of illegal drugs.”
“More people die from prescription-drug overdose than they do from car accidents,” he said. “That’s hard for many people to believe, but it is true.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 people in the U.S. die each day from an overdose of prescription pain relievers. In North Carolina, 728 people died from prescription opioid overdose in 2014.
Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012, enough for a bottle of pills for every person in the country.
Ten of the 13 highest-prescribing states are in the South, among them, North Carolina.
And the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that on an average day in 2014, 5,784 adolescents used prescription pain relievers non-medically for the first time.
Cooper, who’s running for governor, said one significant step North Carolina could take in dealing with the issue is to expand Medicaid.
“That would get a significant number of people covered for mental health and substance abuse treatment who aren’t covered today,” he said. “We could cover hundreds of thousands of more people if [the state] would accept this 100 percent federal Medicaid expansion.”
Cooper also cited cutbacks in mental health and substance abuse treatment and drug courts as hampering efforts to confront the issue.