Drug use among Barry County teens is alarming

Thursday, May 16, 2013
Synthetic drugs marketed to attract kids Democrat Photo/Melonie Roberts At Friday's Lunch and Learn presentation, sponsored by the Barry County Community Coalition, a variety of illegal items were on display. Pictured above are synthetic drugs, bath salts and marijuana-laced candy, pecan bars, brownies and breath mints. Steve Miller, Missouri Substance Abuse Prevention Associate and prevention specialist, said many of the edible items were being brought back to the area following the Colorado ski season, where marijuana has been legalized. "Many of these items are packaged to attract kids," Miller said. "We know that using marijuana makes it harder for teens to make good decisions."

About 50 people attended a special Lunch and Learn event at Mercy Hospital in Cassville on Friday, hosted by the Barry County Community Connection Coalition. The event was to raise awareness on the continuing drug problem in the Barry County area and included information on new trends, such as synthetic drugs available over-the-counter.

The presentation, "Not for Human Consumption," was delivered by Steve Miller, Missouri Substance Abuse Prevention Associate and prevention specialist.

"We have an awareness of drugs in our culture that are targeting today's youth," Miller said. "Emergency room visits related to prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse exceed those of all street drugs combined. Prescription medications are those commonly abused by 12- and 13-year-olds."

Synthetic drugs marketed to attract kids Democrat Photo/Melonie Roberts Steve Miller, Missouri Substance Abuse Prevention Associate and prevention specialist, was the featured speaker at Friday's Lunch and Learn presentation, sponsored by the Barry County Community Coalition. The topic was "Not for Human Consumption."

According to surveys taken by Barry County students, 8 percent report abusing over-the-counter medications, such as Robitussin and Coricidin, and 11 percent report prescription medication abuse.

"Over-the-counter medications can be just as dangerous and lethal as street drugs," Miller said. "As parents, we have to safeguard medications and dispose of them properly."

Miller said there is a connection between pharmaceutical abuse and the resurgence of heroin that is trending in Barry County.

"People become dependent on oxycontin, hydrocodone and codeine," Miller said. "Heroin provides more bang for the buck at $40 per pill versus $5 to $12 for a bag."

Miller also addressed the continuing methamphetamine problems in Barry County.

"It's been on our radar for a long time," Miller said. "One in five teens has a friend who has tried meth. Two in five believe trying it once would not be risky.

"People can become addicted to meth after just one use," Miller continued. "While there is a typical 30-day detox for alcoholism, it's three years for meth."

Miller also spoke of the dangers of meth trash and the impact on the community.

"We've had kids pick up bottles and use them for squirt guns and get burned from chemicals from these shake and bake labs," Miller said. "We even have a report of one person taking a shake and bake lab to the emergency room and personnel mistook it for a bottle of Gatorade. They had no idea it was volatile."

A primary concern among prevention specialists is underage drinking.

"It's accessible," Miller said. "Most underage drinking begins before the age of 15 right in their own home. Binge drinking accounts for one in six teens in Barry County.

"Fifteen percent of teen drinkers say they can't stop," Miller continued, "and 23 percent of 10th grade students in Barry County report using alcohol in the past month."

Teens are upping the stakes in these dangerous games.

"The trend we're seeing is what teens call 'Skittles parties,' where they take a handful of their parents' prescription pills and toss them in a bowl then randomly pick out pills and swallow them down with alcohol," Miller said. "About 5,000 kids die every year from alcohol-related incidents."

Marijuana is also a popular drug of choice for Barry County teens. A survey indicates 12.42 percent of students in the county use marijuana.

"We're seeing some new products coming back from the Colorado ski season, where marijuana is legal," Miller said. "We have PCP laced candy, brownies, pecan bars, gummy bears and even breath mints.

"We know that using marijuana makes it harder for teens to make good decisions, it reduces their motivation and increases impulsivity. Once they start, they either don't want to or can't stop."

Synthetic drugs are a major source of concern for local law enforcement officials.

Miller said legislation can't keep up with the changing chemical composition of products like K-2 and bath salts.

"There is higher use of synthetic drugs in Barry County than anywhere else in the state," Miller said. "But it's impossible to know exactly what drugs they contain or how it is going to affect someone who uses it."

According to Johnnie Cox, Barry County Prosecuting Attorney and one of the panel experts at the presentation, products like K-2 cost storeowners between $5 and $8 per packet, and they are marking them up to $30 or more.

"They claim independent lab tests report no illegal substances in the product," Cox said. "[Producers] can change one molecule in their formula, but they have no idea how it will react to the person taking it. And they don't care."

"We shut down one store in McDonald County where the owner had made over $5 million in a year selling this stuff to people," said John Luckey, director of the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force, "and bath salts seem to be worse."

Hospital emergency rooms are seeing an increasing number of victims who have ingested bath salts and experience symptoms that mimic real medical emergencies. Emergency medical personnel are left with treating the symptoms of rapid heartbeat, hypoglycemia and anxiety.

"The names of these products change all the time, but the packaging remains similar," Miller said. "A lot of these are marketed to kids. There's one that, as a parent, terrifies me because it's called 'Scooby Snacks.' What kid doesn't want Scooby Snacks?"

"My best suggestion is to stop doing business with these private business owners that sell this stuff," Cox said. "No one sells half a gram of potpourri for $30," "We've seen kids howling like a wolf after taking this stuff," added Luckey. "They will be manically laughing and suddenly burst into tears."

A panel member described a patient who couldn't have her "drug of choice" while in treatment and started using bath salts. Within a month, the woman was permanently disabled and diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"When an individual starts using drugs, it freezes their brain chemistry," added Judge Victor Head, who adjudicates for the Barry County Drug Court. "They may be 30 years old but act 15."

Epperly urged citizens to anonymously report suspicious activity, businesses selling synthetic drugs or what appears to be an abandoned meth lab or lab trash.

"We have people who will recover and dispose of meth trash," he said. "It typically looks like liquid mixed with a granular substance and may have black flakes of metal in it. These are highly volatile and dangerous."

For more information on drug abuse prevention, visit www.actmissouri.org or call Leesa Ginther, Barry County Community Coalition, at the Barry County Health Department, 417-354-8686.

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