Saturday, September 20, 2008

HEALTH NEWS: NJ Launches Campaign Against Medicine Abuse

(previously published here at

The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) announced Monday a statewide public service campaign titled "Grandma's Stash," to raise awareness that misuse of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana as America's most prevalent drug problem.

The award-winning multi-media effort will utilize newspapers, radio stations, billboards, buses and trains to spread the message that "more teens now say it's easier to get powerful prescription drugs than it is to buy beer," as Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez said at the press conference in Lawrenceville.

Her assertion is based on findings from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University's 13th annual back-to-school survey of 1,002 teens and parents. The survey asked: "Which is easiest for someone your age to buy: cigarettes, beer, marijuana, or prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin or Ritalin, without a prescription?"

While the overall response had teens saying cigarettes and marijuana were easiest to purchase, they also said prescription drugs were easier to get than beer. Nineteen percent of teens, compared to 13 percent a year ago, found prescription drugs are easier to get than all three of the other substances.

Over 720 New Jersey pharmacies will also distribute around 750,000 prevention messages on pharmacy bags. "[This initiative is a] great example of a public-private-nonprofit collaboration that can positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Jersey families," said Joseph Roney, R. Ph. FACP/CEO, of the New Jersey Pharmacist Association in a PDFNJ press release.

Columbia's 2008 CASA survey report also noted that many of the parents surveyed are "problem parents" whose actions - or lack thereof - increased the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs among 12- to 17-year-olds. Thirty-four percent of teens surveyed who abused prescription drugs obtained them at home, and half of those allowed out after 10 p.m. said they spent time with smokers and drug users.

There are lots of factors at play here," Elizabeth Planet, CASA's director of special projects, said to the Washington Post of the behavior differences revealed in the study. "Parents are not paying attention. There are parents who are out in the evening themselves. There are parents out at work."

"In the 2007 New Jersey Middle School Principals Study, half of the principals surveyed indicated that they believed prescription drugs were abused more than twice that of ecstasy and cocaine by their students," Joseph A. Miele, PDFNJ chairman, said at the press conference. "[Yet] the 2007 PDFNJ Parent Tracking Survey found that 44 percent of New Jersey parents of middle school students said they knew little or just about nothing about prescription drug abuse."

It is also necessary for kids to understand the risks involved with misusing prescription drugs.

"Kids [may] think that because these are medicines that are prescribed, they are safe," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The problem is that there is very little difference between the amount they take for a high and the amount that causes an overdose."

So keeping the lines of communication open and the medicine cabinet closed is incredibly important, she said.

Joseph Califano, CASA chairman and president, told the Post he recommends more than three family dinners a week, while Steve Pasierb, president of Partnership for a Drug-Free America suggested to WebMD that parents engage in "a lot of smaller conversations that aren't so scary" compared to a big, intimidating talk.

The "Grandma's Stash" campaign also commemorates August as National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, a designation passed this July by the U.S. Senate in light of a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report about the increasing rates of prescription drug abuse.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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