Official cites prescription-pill problem

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- School officials suspect that an 18-year-old Poplar Bluff High School student who was hospitalized Thursday may have taken someone else's prescription medications.

"His teacher called us. He was agitated and lethargic," said Sheldon Tyler, assistant principal at Poplar Bluff High School. "It got to the point where we had to call the ambulance."

Tyler said the student claimed he was having a seizure.

"We're pretty sure it wasn't a seizure. We're pretty sure it was drug-induced," Tyler said. "We had witnesses who saw another kid giving him something earlier -- a pill of some kind." That student, a 16-year-old, allegedly had a sleeping pill in his possession when he was searched.

The incident highlights a problem with prescription drug abuse that Tyler says most parents don't think about.

"The parents are totally flabbergasted when you call them," Tyler said. "They're always shocked."

Donna Carey can identify with that.

"I was very shocked when he called and told me," said Carey, whose roommate's son is one of the students involved in Thursday's incident. She knows both boys.

Tyler's call prompted Carey to check the medications she keeps in her purse: prescriptions that had been filled the day before, she said.

"I got to looking and my Xanax and somas and the bottles are totally gone," Carey said.

"A lot of parents don't know their kids are getting hold of their past and present prescriptions," Tyler said. "It's a real easy way for them to get high."

It's a problem that's more prevalent in school than either alcohol or marijuana use, Tyler said.

"When I first came here, you get yourself prepared for looking for alcohol and marijuana," Tyler said. "But my experience has been that we have had more kids getting their parents' prescriptions. We have a lot more kids in possession of pills than we have had in possession of marijuana."

Tyler said five students have been caught with pills since the school year began in August.

"It averages out to about one a month," he said.

That compares to one student caught with alcohol, another found under the influence of alcohol, and three nabbed with marijuana during the same period, Tyler said.

Prescription drugs may be the top choice because they are readily available, and obtaining them may simply be a matter of swiping a few from a large bottle, Tyler said. And prescription-drug abuse can be more difficult to detect. Unlike alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs have no signature odor to alert teachers to their presence.

That leads Tyler to believe that the problem may be bigger than the numbers reveal.

"We have no idea how many of these kids are actually doing this," Tyler said.

A variety of pills have been confiscated.

"It's been the whole spectrum, anything from trucker pills -- those caffeine pills -- to hard-core prescription drugs," Tyler said. "You never know.

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