LONDONDERRY | Alarmed by the growing number of teens abusing prescription drugs, school officials held a community forum last week to raise awareness of this dangerous trend.

According to a national study released in February, nearly one-third of teens believe there's nothing wrong with using medicines without a prescription.

"This was alarming to me," said Brian Balke, director of pupil services for the Londonderry School District. After talking with other school officials, he decided to organize a forum to address the problem.

The forum last Thursday, May 17, at Town Hall featured Superintendent Nate Greenberg, Londonderry High School Principal Jim Elefante, representatives from the juvenile justice system, and health and mental health professionals.

"It's easy for the kids to get medications from their parents' medicine cabinets," Elefante said. "There are also a number of kids on medications. They store the pills and share them with other kids."

Elefante said it is mostly the younger high-school-age students, ninth- and 10th-graders, that he sees with this problem.

"When I ask them about it, they say they've been doing this for years," he said. "It's a new phenomenon in the last five years or so."

Greenberg said young people feel safer taking prescription drugs than smoking marijuana.

"Kids don't view it negatively as they do something that's illicit," he said.

"They're not selling the pills and making a profit," Elefante said. "They give them away. They don't realize that it's not a 'good drug' for them. I think kids are starting to get the message that alcohol and other drugs are not good for you | but not prescription drugs."

Elefante said the bad news is that it's difficult to tell if a student is taking a prescription medication not meant for them.

"You can smell marijuana, or use a Breathalyzer for alcohol," he said. "We don't have an 'Adderallyzer.'" Adderall is a stimulant taken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Michael Torch, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor based in Londonderry, said the immediate effects of taking someone else's prescription drug can be an overdose or life-threatening emergency.

"This is particularly dangerous if combined with alcohol," he said. "One Vicodin pill washed down with a beer has the effect of four or five Vicodins."

Torch said the long-term effects are dependency and profound neurological changes to the brain.

"This leads to lifetime mental health conditions," he said.

Dr. Christopher Peterson of Londonderry Pediatrics said he talks to patients starting at the age of 6 or 7 about tobacco and alcohol use.

Greenberg said that parents put safety latches on cupboards and baby gates around when their children are toddlers.

"When they're older, we need to put up psychological guards and tell them that we're checking on them to make sure things are safe," he said. "Teens are hard-wired to see how close they can come to the edge of the cliff without falling off."

Dr. Jeff Bostic, a child psychiatrist from Massachusetts General Hospital, said that part of the risk-taking is because they are, in fact, teenagers.

"Some kids truly feel bad and self-medicate," he said. "Others like to be involved in risky behavior."

The panel members all agreed that it's a "pill-popping society."

"You see it all the time on TV," Peterson said. "Take this, you'll feel better."

Parents who attended last week's forum said they were glad that the school district had organized it.

"I'm very happy that they've done this," said Cheryl Borjeson, a mother of three teenage girls. "It's like, 'Open your eyes, people.' I give this town credit for opening the door (to discussion.)"

Elefante said parents tend to take the easy way out and ignore their teens when they are moody. But, he said, that's when they need you the most.

"Londonderry is no better or worse than anywhere else," Elefante said. "We just made a conscious decision to address the issue."





Availability and accessibility of prescription drugs.

47 percent of teens say they get them for free.

10 percent say they buy painkillers from a friend or relative.

62 percent of teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parents' medicine cabinets.

56 percent agree that prescription drugs are easier to get than 'street' drugs.

39 percent of 14- to 20-year-olds say it is easy to get prescription drugs online or by phone.

Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy

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