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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Prescription drug abuse among youths usually starts at home

Caitlin Acosta of Falls Church started abusing prescription medications at age 12 and spent the next several years getting deeper into the local drug culture. Now 24, Acosta volunteers with recovery programs to help youths struggling with addiction.
She told her story at a media briefing May 14 at the Mason Government Center in Annandale organized by the Unified Prevention Coalition (UPC) of Fairfax County to focus public attention on what UPC Executive Director Diane Eckert called an “epidemic” of prescription drug abuse.

The UPC and its partners are sponsoring Operation Medicine Cabinet Cleanout, a campaign to promote the safe disposal of expired, unused, or unneeded medications. During May 27 through June 1, people can drop off their meds at police stations throughout the county, including the Mason Police Station. (Only pills and liquids will be accepted, not pressurized canisters or needles.)

According to Eckert, 70 percent of people who abuse prescription medications get them from the medicine cabinets of family or friends; only 5 percent get them from drug dealers.

The abuse of painkillers and other prescription drugs can lead to overdoses, accidental poisoning, trips to the emergency room, and even death, she says. To prevent those drugs from getting into the wrong hands, she urges people to keep them locked up and “count your pills.” Even though parents might trust their own kids, their kids’ friends might be another story. Youths looking for prescription drugs often find them in the bathrooms of grandparents or even open houses.

Acosta said she started taking Percocet she found in her parents’ medicine cabinet at age 12 because, “I was uncomfortable with who I was. I felt I was not cool enough and not pretty enough.”

She was suspended from school in the seventh grade when administrators discovered the pills in her backpack and was charged with a felony. That only made things worse, and she started hanging around with a tougher crowd and taking more drugs and drinking heavily. By the time she was 18, Acosta said she felt “empty all the time,” depressed, and anxious and soon became addicted to Oxycontin and Xanax.

Eventually, she told her parents, and they helped her “cultivate a moral compass” and overcome her addiction. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive and healthy and happy,” she says.

As a student at George Mason High School, Acosta said drug abuse was common, and lots of  kids with prescriptions for Adderall and Ritalin were selling pills to their peers who needed a boost while studying for exams. 

A Fairfax County youth survey reports 6 percent of high school students have abused prescription medications within the previous 30 days.

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