Irvington police officer Detective Kevin Johnson has been a member of the Greenburgh Drug and Alcohol Task Force since 2006.
Since that time, he has charged more teens and young adults not only for posession of marijuana and alcohol, but also for un-prescribed pills like Benzodiazepines—anti-anxiety medication—pain killers and sleep aids, such as Ambien.
"It's a huge problem, especially in these affluent towns," he said. "We're seeing it a lot more than before, and it seems as if some parents don't care about it nearly as much as having their kids do 'illegal' drugs."
Hastings pharmacist Mike Altman agrees.
"I've been filling more prescriptions for [for adults] for pain killers, anti-anxiety medication and sleep aids since the economy became so bad in about 2008," said Altman, owner of (now ) in Hastings.
In early July, Irvington police charged two teens in one week with criminal possession of controlled substances—one with possession of Temeazapan, a prescription sleep aid and the other had Xanax, a widely-prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
In May, the Dobbs Fery PTSA sponsored a forum in which they invited a village youth officer, a substance abuse counselor and a member of the Westchester County District Attorney's office to present on the same issue.
The event garnered a very small audience, frustrating some of the parent organizers.
That many parents are not as concerned by the trend in teens using un-prescribed medications troubles both Altman and Johnson on many levels.
One major cause for their concern is that the parents are most often the "dealers."
"You see it especially with 'as-needed' medications," Altman said. "The parents are prescribed the medications, but they don't take them on a regular basis; that way they don't notice when their kids take a few here and there."
"There are many ways in which these kids get the drugs," he said. "Some buy or steal them from friends with valid presriptions. They're not very difficult for them to find."
In Altman's mind, parents won't start caring as much about the ubiquitous problem until there's a real tragedy.
"I think parents are, for the most part, turning a blind eye to it and thinking 'It couldn't be my kid doing this,'" he said. "But I think many would be surprised. I think it will take a death from overdose or mixing with alcohol or a kid driving off the road from taking these drugs that will have to be the wake-up call. It's a sad reality."
Health professionals do not think that more kids are being prescribed the pills for themselves and them disseminating to friends or selling them.
"Many of these drugs are not even FDA approved for minors," Altman said. "It's not like Adderal and Ritallin, which the kids get from their own doctors."
Hastings general practitioner Cheryl Appel—who specializes in treating adolescents and young adults—agrees that while she hasn't been prescribing more anti-anxiety medications or sleep aids to her patients, she has seen a rise in kids complaining of anxiousness and insomnia.
"I think it comes from the stress of the environment these kids are living in," she said. "There is so much they're expected to do and excel at."
She agreed that parents—especially of high-achieving teenagers—are less likely to be overly concerned about their kids taking an Ativan or an Ambien once in a while—as long as they're not smoking pot.
After all, if these drugs are prescribed to the parents, how harmful could they be?
The irony of this mentality is that the the charges associated with police arresting someone for having marijuana are generally less severe than that of being caught with an un-prescribed controlled substance.
"Depending on how much they have—and it doesn't take a ton—someone caught with these pills will be charged with a misdemeanor," Johnson said. "Most pot charges are just violations."
Johnson, Altman and Appel think a greater level of education is warranted—both for parents and teenagers.
"Even the most-highly educated adults tend not to read all the print on a prescription label," Altman said. "Parents don't realize that if their kids take even just a few of these drugs, especially if they mix a few together or take them with alcohol, they could die."
Johnson pointed out an eerie connection between these drugs and other substance-abuse problems.
"We see all the time that Oxycontin [Oxycodone] abuse is a gateway to heroin addictions, even among teenagers," he said. "Once they run out of the pain killers, it's easier to get heroin on the street. If they're already addicted, they need the drugs to avoid being in excruciating pain, so many turn to heroin. We see it even with 'good kids' in these towns. It's really sad."
Do you see this as a major problem? Are you concerned about this issue in the Rivertowns community? Please post your opinions in the comments section.
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