A 14-year-old Carson High School student recounted climbing up in her great-grandfather’s bathroom to change a lightbulb. She looked over at the top of the medicine cabinet where she saw a spoon and lighter hidden.
That’s when she learned both of her uncles had a heroin addiction.
“They both abused heroin and prescription drugs,” she said. “They would take over my great-grandpa’s apartment. They would steal from him and they would steal his medicines.”
It was a terrible realization for her.
“I don’t understand how a family member could do that,” she told fellow Carson High School students Monday as part of a two-day presentation warning of the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter painkillers.
The presentation is part of the outreach provided by the youth group One Up, through Partnership Carson City, an organization committed to a healthy community.
“You just heard from a fellow freshman,” explained Hannah McDonald, youth program coordinator and training specialist for Partnership Carson City. “It affects people at your high school.”
McDonald shared startling statistics, such as one in five high school students reports abusing prescription drugs. In 2010, more people abused or were dependent on prescription painkillers than cocaine, heroin, stimulants and sedatives combined.
She said abuse doesn’t always look the way you might think.
“Abusing doesn’t mean using it every day, constantly. Abuse can mean every using it every Saturday. Abusing it is using it when you’re not supposed to, when your name is not on the bottle, when you’re taking more than you’re supposed to or too close together,” McDonald explained. “Take it when you need it, but never take more than it says.”
While taking prescription drugs outside of their intended use in inherently dangerous — unintentional overdose of prescription drugs is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. — there is an additional hazard.
“Abuse of prescription drugs will most likely become heroin one day,” McDonald said.
That’s because, like most prescription painkillers, heroin is opiate based. However, heroin is cheaper, more available and offers a longer-lasting high. Between 2010 and 2012, she said, 939 deaths in Nevada were related to heroin or other opiates.
It isn’t without hope though.
“Addiction is a disease that can be treated with rehabilitation, counseling, support groups and medications,” McDonald said.
Recovery is possible, she said, for any students who had experimented with drug abuse.
“Do you want to have a relationship with someone or something, whether it’s a dealer or a drug itself, where you know they will always win?” she asked. “No. You want to do amazing things with your lives, go places and make something of your community.”