The groups came together to speak at a recent “Lunch and Learn” event to sponsor the Gordon County Drug Take Back event in April.
Pharmacists and counselors in Gordon County also spoke about what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) calls a growing “epidemic” of pharmaceutical addiction and abuse levels in teenagers in the United States.
“On average, when we bring it down to our community in Northwest Ga., specifically Gordon County, the average age of onset for prescription drugs in Calhoun city is 12-years-old and in the County is 13-years-old, and the youngest (age of onset) falls to Bartow County,” said Travis Hurd, Director of Social Services at Northstar Hospice, Counselor at the Calhoun Counseling Center, and Mobile Crisis Clinician with Behavioral Health Link.
Through Hurd’s many occupations he has been around mental health issues for about 12 years and believes the growing problem with teenagers and prescription pills is a major issue in Gordon County.
While pharmaceutical use and abuse in Gordon County begins as early as middle school, it usually isn’t recognized until the student gets to high school, and by then it may be too late.
“In the grocery stores the government is trying to regulate a lot of these medications,” said Hurd, “but still these kids are getting them and a lot of these parents don’t realize that their kids started drugs at 12 and they have been doing it for five or six years.”
Hurd’s position as a Crisis Clinician allows him to go into emergency rooms to assist individuals in crisis, where he has an opportunity to look at drug screens.
“A lot of times we look at their drug screen and there’s almost, I would probably say through personal experience, 95 percent or higher will have at least an opiate, a benzo, in their system,” said Hurd. “A lot of times when we see in an overdose in the ER, it’s not necessarily they took a handful of pills, it’s they mixed the wrong kind and that’s where the deaths occur,” he said.
Calhoun City Police Chief Gary Moss also believes there is an ongoing battle with prescription drugs in Gordon County, and because of the highly addictive nature of prescription drugs, it is not uncommon for many children to reach into home medicine cabinets.
“There is a huge problem with teenage kids and prescription drugs and they’re finding these in mom and dads medicine cabinets, grandma and grandpa’s medicine cabinets and they’re experimenting with them like they do everything else,” said Moss. “We certainly want to keep them out of the kids hands.”
‘The Most Addictive Drug in the World’
Moss shared a story of his time served in investigations where he met a narcotics officer who happened to be a retired pharmacist and shared with Moss that Hydrocodone was the most addictive drug in the world, in his opinion.
“About 15 years ago, I had a unique experience with prescription drugs. It was a case that I was investigating when I was in investigation. We ended up with a gentleman from Georgia Narcotics who was a retired pharmacist… he said hydrocodone, or loratab, loracet, is the most addictive drug in the world. He said meth was just something you heard about,” recalled Moss. “He said I don’t know that much about meth, cocaine, and the other hallucinogens, but these do not even come close to what hydrocodone will do to you.”
According to the Director of Pharmacy at Gordon Hospital, Karen Gueresso, if children are taking pharmaceuticals out of their home medicine cabinets, the medications end up on the streets and in schools.
“I have been a pharmacist for 20 years and I will agree with all the law enforcement here that the abuse of prescription drugs has really become rampant all over the country,” she said. “Your kids can get a hold of that, their friends can get a hold of this, and they get into the community.”
Not only are children at risk, but elderly prescription holders struggle as well, according to Gueresso.
“Many times they (elderly patients) will have the same medication in two or three different strengths in their medicine cabinet, and it’s confusing as to which one they’re on. Are they on the eight milligram or the 120, or the 240 and they can have fatal drug errors with that,” said Gueresso. “I encourage, if you’ve got older people especially, that you clean out their medicine cabinet so that they don’t make the mistake and take the wrong medication or they don’t try to self-treat. They don’t realize that they are on something new that actually will interact with something old that they used to take and have to be admitted to Gordon Hospital,” she said.
Statistically, the numbers are hard to find, in part, because pharmaceutical companies do not offer the bad news for the products they are selling, according to Hurd.