Teen pill use alarms local leaders

2012-04-19T00:00:00Z Teen pill use alarms local leadersBy Piper Haugan of The Montana Standard Montana Standard

A rise in the use of illegal pills with kids as young as 13 has local police and others concerned.

Josh Stearns, resource officer at Butte High, said he’s recently had a lot of students tell him about the use of prescription pills and other drugs, like Ecstasy and “Molly.”

He also pointed to a rise in “fishbowl parties,” where kids raid medicine cabinets for prescription drugs like Oxycontin, hydrocodone and Percocet, place the pills in a bowl, and ingest them at random.

“I don’t think kids know what they’re getting themselves into,” Stearns said.

Kids not only pop pills, though. Stearns said users are crushing, snorting and injecting the substances as well.

Last year, Stearns said, a Butte High School student died in 2011 after overdosing on methadone. Statewide, about 350 people died from prescription drug-related deaths — “a pretty alarming amount,” Stearns said. In contrast, he said, eight people died from using meth.

One of the biggest problems, said Butte police detective Kevin Maloughney, is that the prescription drugs are socially acceptable and available in most family medicine cabinets.

“We treat all illness with medication,” he said.

Two popular drugs — Ecstasy and Molly — both contain a synthetic stimulant commonly known as MDMA. The drug affects serotonin levels, resulting in abundant energy, self-confidence, and at times hyperthermia, dehydration and cardio-

vascular and liver failure.

Stearns first heard of Molly last year when youths were caught with it. Now, he said, he sees indications of the drug almost weekly.

“It’s a compound so close to meth it’s not even funny,” Stearns said.

Dealers contend Molly is safer than other drugs since it’s supposedly pure, Stearns said. However, he said dealers are known to add other substances to maximize profits. And complications arise when drugs are mixed that may lead to hospitalization and even death.

“It really makes it a lot more dangerous when you start combining drugs,” Stearns said.

Another drug hitting Butte: Bath salts — which were available legally until recently.

“Have you seen a meth addict? Wait till you see someone on bath salts,” Stearns said. “They’re totally out of touch with reality.”

One difficulty with these drugs is detecting their use. Stearns said it’s easier to notice other “gateway drugs” such as marijuana and alcohol because of associated odors, appearances and behaviors.

However, when people use drugs like Ecstasy, “they’re not drinking alcohol, they’re drinking water,” Stearns said. “You have to have probable cause. It’s not an easy thing to detect.”

Maloughney said teaching parents and kids about the effects, signs and symptoms of drug use is the best preventive medicine.

“The biggest thing we can do is educate,” Maloughney said.

— Reporter Piper Haugan: 496-5572, piper.haugan@mtstandard.com or Twitter.com/Piper_Haugan

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