Prescription drugs: ‘No single solution’ to resolve addiction

No parent should ever have to experience the pain Ginger Katz has felt for the last 17 years.

“I get calls from everyone — parents with kids who have died, or who have overdosed or who went to rehab and relapsed— trust me, you don’t want to be on that list,” said Ms. Katz, the founder of Courage to Speak Foundation and a frequent speaker on drug abuse. “You don’t want to know what this feels like.”

Her 20-year old son, Ian, died in 1996 from a drug overdose less than two weeks into his junior year of college.

Ridgefield has had its share of overdoses and deaths from other drug-related events.

Last year, a Ridgefield man was shot and killed in cold blood while trying to procure prescription drugs.

The maximum cautionary tale — murder, an outlier to even Ms. Katz’ comprehensive list — should have rang sirens from all edges of town, yet even after suffering this traumatic incident, drug use and abuse continues in Ridgefield.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said disbelief and ignorance in Ridgefield about prescription drugs abuse should no longer exist.

“You either have two choices: Stick your head in a pail of sand and pretend like it’s not happening here or you can get involved and try to correct the situation,” he said.

Mr. Marconi added that the community is doing everything in its power to combat the growing crisis of drug abuse and addiction. But there is no single solution to the problem.

“I don’t know what exactly the answer is here and that’s the frustrating part of it,” he said.

Power of knowledge

Ms. Katz knows the drug abuse problem across the country is complicated and intricate, with no one-sentence answer. However, she believes the most important factor in curbing drug problems is knowledge.

“Parents have to find out everything their children are being exposed to — whether it comes from friends, schools or elsewhere, it’s all the same,” she said. “It’s never too late no matter where they are in school — elementary, middle school, high school, college — you have to be persistent in wanting to know. A parent’s power over this epidemic is knowledge.

“A majority of kids don’t use drugs, but I am telling every parent out there to find out what their child is being exposed to — where, when and how they’re exposed to it.”

She added that in the long run, paying for a college education is a lot cheaper than paying for a child to enter drug rehabilitation.

“Parents are the number-one key to preventing substance abuse, and I know that’s a heavy burden, but prevention can happen with an on-going conversation with our child and getting to know what’s going on in their life,” Ms. Katz said. “My advice is not to avoid it, address it before the addiction escalates. It is not a one-time conversation but rather an ongoing discussion.

“I never saw it coming with my child and by the time I did, he was severely addicted.”

Ms. Katz is not alone in parents who didn’t see the signs.

She says there are too many people who can relate directly with her story and that is what motivates her to keep giving speeches about drug use.

“I never want to get calls, but they keep coming day after day over the years,” she said.

Ms. Katz confirmed that her list of parents who have suffered a loss from substance abuse, is more than 100 people.

Even if communication between parents and their children could entirely prevent addiction, which no study has proven, the number of addictive substances would still exist.

Annihilate the “free source”

Results from a Substance Abuse and Menthal Health Services Administration survey on national drug use conducted in 2010-2011 revealed that about four in every five nonmedical users obtained prescription drugs from a friend or relative for free.

“The quickest and most effective method of eliminating their presence is cleaning out that free source — check medical cabinets in your home and the homes of our extended families and throw away unused painkillers,” said Rudy Ruggles, the co-chairman of the Ridgefield Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

What’s perhaps most alarming about the results from the survey is that among persons aged 12 or older, only 4.4% of nonmedical users took painkillers without asking, meaning a majority of users were either given the substances or bought them from friends or relatives.

“Vulnerability exists because it has become so popular in the younger generations and it’s right there for their hands to grab, if it’s in a medicine cabinet at home,” said Mr. Marconi. “Who does inventory on prescription drugs? Not many people, but they really should. What’s not being taken and used is being taken and sold.”

Follow the money

 What can a parent or adult do when facing at-risk youth who are reluctant to talk to them?

Ms. Katz advises parents to “follow the money” to find out exactly what the kid is doing when communication has stalled.

“Some kids have jobs and this money funds a certain pattern, a certain lifestyle that doesn’t go noticed at home,” she said. “Just because your kid has a job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how much they have and how much they are spending in a given week. It’s a parents job to teach their children the value of money and how to budget; otherwise kids will think it’s a bottomless pit.”

While she acknowledges children might view this as a lack of trust in them, Ms. Katz says money skills need to be taught and are useful way for parents to get a sense of what is going on if they sense their child is being dishonest.

Conspiracy of silence

Ms. Katz added that “a lot of parents don’t admit it because they’re scared what other parents will think.”

She believes the wall of secrecy and denial — “the conspiracy of silence” — needs to be brought down so that a cure for the addiction can be discovered.

“Concealment is a huge issue in this country — I don’t judge parents who don’t speak out — that’s their right — but it’s my goal to try and stop another senseless death from destroying the next couple or family,” she said.

“Parents work so hard to support their families just to see it go up in smoke because they deny there’s a problem with their child. And I’ll tell you something: Denial is not worth the cost of rehab and it’s certainly not worth the cost of your child losing his or her life.”

Town officials have noticed a shift in communication between community members that has compounded the silence into something much worse — negligence.

I am always hearing stories of parents telling other parents, ‘it’s none of your business, worry about your own kids.’ It never used to be like that,” said Mr. Marconi.

Liz Jorgensen, a Ridgefield drug and alcohol counselor, agrees that the parental culture needs to change.

“People need to confront each other and have the courage to say something or use social shame to finally put an end to this. It’s the only way,” she said. “There is no justification for tolerating substance abuse.”

The police confirm that before a solution can be found, parents and friends of a user or an addict need to admit there’s a problem.

“If you see something wrong, you need to get the child or the person help — it doesn’t matter where or by who,” said Detective Brian Durling of the Ridgefield Police Department. “First step is coming to terms that there’s a substance abuse issue.”

“It takes a whole village to raise a child,” Captain Tom Comstock added. “I have two kids and I know if I was having a problem, I wouldn’t be too bashful to ask for help, but that’s me. I can’t speak for other parents. As long as I’m helping my child, then I’m fine with having my name in the paper. Others, they don’t want that notoriety. They want to keep it a secret.”

Comprehensive problem

Sue Foster, the vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, saida lack of education is the main problem that need to be resolved.

“Our focus is too narrow — we have to begin to look at this as a comprehensive public health problem,” she said. “There’s a lack of education where people do not recognize the nature of this disease and tend to go after specific drugs.”

Ms. Foster believes that doctors who over-prescribe painkiller medication exacerbate the situation.

According to the national survey, the original source of the users who obtained prescription drugs for free from a friend or relative came from a doctor’s prescription 81.6% of the time.

“One of the biggest solutions is to increase public awareness so that we can begin to monitor prescriptions given and put a restraint on the number of refills,” she said. “Doctors who are profiting off addiction should be prosecuted…

“Some doctors are just not educated in how to look for addiction problems and they tend to be asleep at the switch when it comes to this problem — they need to wake up.”

She concluded that the general belief is that misusing prescription drugs is less harmful than misusing street drugs.

“This is not true,” she said. “A lot more people are starting with prescription drugs before any other substances, even before alcohol and tobacco,” which remain the most prevalent substances abused in the country.

Drug-take back

Captain Comstock, Detective Durling and Chief of Police John Roche urge community members to use the police department’s drug-take back program that collected more than 130 pounds of prescription drugs last year. Unused prescriptions can be dropped off at the police station seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Despite the program’s apparent success, the availability of prescription drugs persists in town.

“OxyContin is something we’ve seen a lot of in the past five or so years, but it’s use is on the decline,” said Chief Roche. “But the problem still remains with other types of drugs and we still take in quite a bit of drugs, ranging from antibiotics to painkillers, to incinerate and destroy…

“We’ve made arrests for people carrying pills they’ve obtain from doctors legally and we’ve seen people get arrested with pills they got from forging script,” he added.

Chief Roche echoes Ms. Katz’ opinion that parent involvement is the key to progress.

“There’s no single solution, but the key factor to this whole thing is parents’ involvement: Discussing it with their kids and educating themselves as a family unit,” he said. “The importance of listening to your children.”

This is the fourth and final article in the series on prescription drug abuse. The previous three are available on

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