Coalition to fight teen prescription drug abuse
“The child’s death was a tragedy. The pain the parents were forced to endure was a tragedy. That a young girl faced a potential lifetime in prison was a tragedy. That the drugs were so readily available to these children was a tragedy,” District Attorney David O’Leary said Monday.
The death illustrates a larger problem statewide: One in five Wisconsin teens have abused prescription drugs, and they often steal their medications from parents who don’t store them safely.
A new Wisconsin coalition, “Safer Use Prevents Abuse,” aims to educate adults who use prescription drugs to keep meds out of children’s hands.
The coalition includes people from local schools, law enforcement, health care and child advocacy. The group announced its new program Monday at the Janesville Police Department. Members hope to bring their message to local schools and parents.
Mark Moody, president of health insurer WEA Trust, said more work must be done to fight teen prescription drug abuse. He said the coalition must use its resources, relationships and skills to reach every community.
“It is truly a public health disaster in the making,” he said. “The problem is growing and it’s real. Parents are not talking to children enough.”
He said parents need to be part of the solution, and they should have drug lockers to safely store their medications.
“We teach our kids, ‘Don’t take candy from a stranger,’ but we don’t teach them, ‘Don’t take pills from a stranger,’” Moody said.
Jordyn Schara, a Reedsburg Area High School sophomore, has taken on the issue in her own community.
She said prescription drug abuse is prevalent because the drugs are free; they don’t involve drug dealers; they are perceived to be safer than illegal drugs; and they are easily available.
“When I first heard of a ‘pharm party,’ I honestly thought it was a party in the country on a farm,” she said. “When I came to realize that my classmates were referring to parties in which they take prescriptions drugs from their family and friends’ medicine cabinets, mix them in a bowl and ingest them, waiting to see the effect, I felt numb.”
In the Milton Township overdose death, Ashlee R. Brown, 14, was sentenced in March to five years in the custody of the state with up to three years incarcerated in the death of Alex Aiken, 13. Brown stole medications from a family member and gave them to Aiken, who was a friend, O’Leary said.
“We have to join together to prevent this tragedy from reoccurring, or it will certainly repeat itself over and over again,” O’Leary said. “My goal is to never have to prosecute another case like this.”