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PHARM-RAISED TEENS from Overlake Hospital


Wellness PhotoBy Deborah Alexander, Attorney at Law with commentary by Greg Engel, MD, Chief of Staff, Overlake Hospital Medical Center

There is an alarming new drug trend in our teen population, and it’s not taking place on street corners or in alleyways.

Instead, it’s the medicine cabinets of typical homes and personal prescriptions that are posing a serious threat to the uninformed. And it’s not just the “burnouts” or “druggies” illegally using this drug, but rather student-athletes, academic achievers, and the all-around kid down the street.

Oxycontin and other prescription drugs are rapidly rising as the new drug of choice among teens of all socioeconomic levels. Although they are the second-most used drugs among teens behind marijuana, many parents in the local community still aren’t aware of the seriousness of the issue.

“Oxycontin is a potent narcotic pain medicine, most often prescribed by doctors for moderate to severe pain from trauma, surgery and cancer,” says Dr. Greg Engel, chief of staff at Overlake Hospital Medical Center. “When abusers crush the pills they have access to all of the narcotic at once. They typically either ingest the drug orally, smoke it, snort it or inject it.”

While cocaine and marijuana are illegal and have a social stigma surrounding their abuse, Oxycontin could be in anyone’s medicine cabinet after a major surgery. Its popularity with teens thrives on it being a much more socially acceptable way of getting high.

Adolescent counselors report that many teen clients come from wealthy families at both public and private schools. The street value for Oxycontin is approximately one dollar per milligram, and the profit margin from selling it on the streets is enormous because it can be purchased through pharmacists at a co-pay reduced rate or stolen from family and friends for free.

Similar to other narcotics, teens can become quickly addicted to the potent drug. From there, it rapidly progresses to the point where the teen is just taking Oxycontin to feel normal, and the dose has to be increased to achieve the same effect, says Dr. Engel.

The legal consequences for a teen who is caught possessing or selling Oxycontin or an illegally obtained prescription drug could be quite severe and expensive. The adolescent abuser may face months in juvenile detention or jail if he or she is more than 18 years old, suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, and may be jeopardizing admission into a college due to criminal conviction. The juvenile criminal defense attorney would likely order a drug and alcohol evaluation along with psychological testing and treatment, but if your teen is over 18 years of age, he or she will likely face adult criminal charges and a conviction could be permanent on his or her criminal record.

However, there are many effective steps that parents can take to stop the teen abuse of Oxycontin:
  • Educate yourself and your teen about the risks.
  • Keep track of quantities of prescription drugs in the house.
  • Talk to your friends, the school and community about the risks and have them monitor their own medicine cabinets.
  • Follow directions carefully on all prescription drugs.
  • Discard old or unused medications in the trash. Do not flush medications down the drain or toilets because the chemicals can taint the water supply. Also, remove any personal identifiable information on prescription bottles before you throw them away.
  • Some cities are providing prescription drug drop-off bins.
  • Be observant.
  • Help your teen find other ways to reduce stress.
  • Be aware of the peers your teen hangs out with and encourage positive friendships and activities. Listen and offer guidance to your teen.
Deborah Alexander is a criminal defense attorney in Seattle. She can be contacted at or 206.403.3426.
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