Photo illustration by Hans Hallgren/daily press

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Photo illustration by Hans Hallgren/daily press

Prescription for danger

Medical drug abuse remaining steady at high school, carries health dangers


Signs to look for:

• Impaired judgment

• Nausea

• Loss of coordination

• Numbness in fingers or toes

• Abdominal pain

• Seizures

• Panic attacks

Source: National Youth

Anti-Drug Media Campaign

— Once. Maybe twice. That's how many times Katie Ronis, Moffat County High School junior, says she has been offered prescription drugs for non-medicinal purposes during her high school tenure.

The prescriptions included the pain relievers Percocet and Vicodin, she said, adding that she'd turned the offers down.

The source: her peers, who had legitimate prescriptions, she said.

"A lot of my friends are in sports, so they get prescribed" medication for sport-related injuries, she said.

"They didn't steal them," she added. "They were actually prescribed."

MCHS disciplinary records show students occasionally possess drugs on campus.

Every year for the past three years, the school recorded one case of prescription drug possession on campus, Assistant Principal Tom Schnellinger said.

The school has one case on record this year.

By law, students are not allowed to possess either prescription or over-the-counter medications on school grounds, MCHS principal Jane Harmon said.

Other sources indicate prescription drug abuse is occurring elsewhere in the nation.

Other Colorado schools have encountered the problem. On the Eastern Slope, three students in a Lakewood middle school were charged with possessing a prescription painkiller on campus last month, the Denver Post reported Feb. 29.

American youths use prescription drugs more frequently than illegal drugs, except marijuana, a 2007 study by the National Youth Anti-drug Media Campaign reported.

On average, 20 percent - or one in five - teenagers have abused prescription medications in their lifetime, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

The rate among Moffat County high school students is slightly higher.

According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, conducted during the 2005-06 school year, about 28 percent of MCHS students have tried prescription drugs for other than medicinal purposes in their lifetime.

High school authorities consider prescription drug possession a controlled substance offense. Many prescription drugs receive the second-highest ranking on law enforcement's drug categorization, said Bill Leonard, Craig Police Department commander.

These drugs have "a high potential for abuse" but possess "current accepted medical use," he said, adding that these drugs include opiate-derivative drugs.

Possessing prescription drugs carries out-of-school suspension at the high school, and recurring offenses could be punishable by expulsion, Schnellinger said.

Distributing prescription drugs to others warrants an automatic expulsion up to a full calendar year, he added.

And taking a drug prescribed to someone else or falsifying a prescription is a federal offense, said Pamela Kinder, a neurologist at Kinder Family Clinic.

Prescription drugs "are regulated for a reason, basically because they're addictive," Kinder said. "Any drug, when used for a high, is going to run the risk for dangerous outcomes."

Still, prescribed drugs can be abused and obtained in excess.

"I've had plenty of patients copy (a) prescription and take it to a second pharmacy," to get additional drugs, Kinder said.

These drugs can have noticeable side effects and health hazards.

Some substances, especially narcotics, can augment depression and carry a high risk for withdrawal symptoms, including dizziness, nausea and "jittery" feelings, Kinder said.

Other drugs, including Riddlin, can cause high blood pressure and possible stroke if overused, Kinder said.

Her recommendation for parents: Keep prescriptions in a locked cabinet, watch for sudden decreases in the number of pills they possess and let as few people as possible in the household know which prescriptions they are taking.

"Parents need to be aware this is happening," she added.

James McCoy is one parent who is trying to keep abreast of drug trends.

When his son Tom has friends over after school, McCoy makes sure all medicines in the house - prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs alike - are locked away.

"I do trust my kids," he said. "I just can't take that chance."

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or


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