Since publishing a plea concerning the growing problem with prescription drug abuse in Barry County, I have received a number of responses from civic leaders, parents, concerned citizens and elected officials. These conversations and phone calls helped me answer the question - "Does anyone care?" - and I believe now that the answer is "yes."
Last week, we published a letter from Cassville Mayor Tracy Holle who offered her support to help combat the dangerous problem, and on Thursday, Sheriff Mick Epperly publically talked about his concerns about the issue during the annual budget hearing. He said he believed the abuse of prescription drugs had surpassed methamphetamine as the county's biggest drug problem and that he and his department, as well as the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force, were committed to fighting this growing problem just like they fought the rise of methamphetamine in the area. In particular, Sheriff Epperly said he and members of the Drug Task Force will begin their efforts by trying to educate emergency workers and members of the public about the problem in the same way they did when meth began hitting the county hard a number of years ago. The sheriff said he and Cliff Boyer, with the Drug Task Force, hope to begin offering educational programs about prescription drug abuse, which we believe is a big step in the right direction.
The responses we received also included calls from a few parents who had experienced the problem of prescription drug abuse firsthand. Most of these parents said they were naive and in denial when faced with their son or daughter's growing drug problem. They could attest to the fact that prescription drugs are highly addictive and that the addiction strikes young people of all socioeconomic backgrounds - the college-bound student, the athlete, the loner, the drop-out and the talented musician. The recent death of actor Heath Ledger also shines a bright light on this problem and I have been pleased to see national news outlets now discussing the problem, of abusing prescription drugs and how easily these drugs can be obtained.
One challenge raised about the issue of prescription drug abuse is how hard it is to police people's medicine cabinets. Yes, there are people who have gotten their hands on large quantities of prescription drugs and are dealing these drugs out of their homes, and these individuals need to be caught, arrested and prosecuted, but there are also young people getting their pills by stealing them from friends and family members, and that's where each one of us can get involved in fighting this problem.
As soon as you're done reading this editorial, go to your medicine cabinet and really look at its contents. Before I became aware of this problem, we had a cabinet full of old prescriptions. You know how it is - you get your wisdom teeth removed and the doctor gives you a prescription for 50 pain pills. You take just a few in the days following surgery and then stick the pill bottle with the remaining pills back in the medicine cabinet. It's those leftover pills that young people are getting their hands on and either ingesting themselves or selling to their friends and classmates. And remember, even if your child isn't going to steal those pills, their friends might be tempted during a visit to your house. So either get rid of the pills by flushing them down the toilet or keep them under lock and key. This is just one very practical way we can all help fight this problem.
There also has been talk about forming a coalition to fight prescription drug abuse similar to the Community 2000 Coalition's ongoing efforts to battle underage drinking. If this thought is going to take shape, members of the community will need to step up to provide vision and leadership for this new organization. And if this coalition is formed, we'll definitely publicize it and let you know how to get involved.
In the meantime, don't be afraid to talk about the issue with your children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends. As we've said before, knowledge is power and educating yourselves about the problem is an important first step in fighting it. It's our hope that a community dialogue has now been started on the issue of prescription drug abuse. Let's keep talking and keep brainstorming on ways we can fight this battle and save young lives.