There's an unfortunate trend happening in Albuquerque. High school students are abusing prescription drugs and often turning to drugs like heroin to support their addiction.
Prescription drugs are now being referred to as gateway drugs that lead teens to find cheaper ways to get high. The consequences have been severe with many overdoses and deaths devastating families and the community.
"Many think that prescription drugs and heroin is like going from A to Z when it's actually more like going from A to B for a lot of teens," said Megan Thompson, PharmD, director of advanced professional pharmacy experiences at the UNM College of Pharmacy.
Since 2007, Thompson has been presenting drug abuse prevention to students of all ages, from elementary schools to high schools. Her approach is different though. Rather than lecturing to a group of students, Thompson prefers an interactive style.
"I pretend that we're at a party and ask some of the students to come up front as though they are at the party, too," said Thompson.
She then hands out a mix of different "prescription drugs" which is actually candy. The idea is to simulate what could happen at a real-life party where prescription drugs are present.
The first few students follow Thompson's lead and pop a couple of pills (candy). She then goes on to explain what they just took and what the side effects are from taking those pills.
"I'll tell a student that they just took a muscle relaxer and an oxycodone causing them to wet their pants in front of everyone at the party," said Thompson. "That gets a good laugh, but the further we go down the line the more severe the side effects become."
The last student to take pills from Thompson usually ends up overdosing and dead. The rest of the students get the idea and refuse to take any pills.
While Thompson clearly illustrates the dangers prescription drugs pose to students, she believes parents and adults need to be equally aware.
Thompson said it's very common and easy for teenagers to go through their parents' medicine cabinets and steal drugs. Her message to parents is to recognize that this can happen and keep the prescription drugs in a safe place.
"Even if you think your child would never do such a thing, realize that their friends are capable of doing it," said Thompson. "We've been told to lock up our alcohol and guns – the same should go for prescription drugs."
Thompson Receives Award of Excellence
This March, Thompson was recognized with the 2012 American Pharmacists Association's Generation Rx Award of Excellence for her work informing the local schools and community about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
The award, endowed by the Cardinal Health Foundation, was established in 2011 to recognize a pharmacist that has demonstrated a commitment to the mission of substance abuse education.