Feds, N.J. officials unite to tackle prescription drug abuse 'epidemic'



Feds, N.J. officials unite to tackle prescription drug abuse 'epidemic'

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 8:05 AM
prescriptions.JPGU.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, other officials, members of federal and state agencies and non-profit organizations have formed a new prescription drug-abuse prevention initiative.

The video testimonial played soft music and showed family pictures as the voice of the Ocean County mother who'd lost her son last year to a relentless and fast-moving prescription drug addiction spoke of the boy she'd raised and loved for 21 years.

"My son Patrick was never afraid of a challenge," began Meg Dupont-Parisi in the video, her voice steady and earnest as it rang out across a room full of reporters at a news conference Monday that had suddenly grew silent and still.

"But the one challenge he could not win," the mother went on, "was the challenge with prescription drug addition.

"In fact, I remember one of the last things he said to me before he died of prescription drug overdose was, ‘Mom, I just can’t lick this addiction.’"

And soon the stirring moment and video beckoned for another silence, as a long pause hung over the room after Dupont-Parisi’s 5-minute video went dark. A beat later, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman — flanked by Dupont-Parisi herself, along with nearly 10 other officials and members of federal and state agencies and non-profits who’ve together have formed a new prescription drug-abuse prevention initiative — stepped to the microphone and asked reporters for questions.

Fishman had already explained, at a news conference held in a room abutting his Newark offices yesterday, that the program itself seeks to use a multimedia public service campaign to inform New Jersey’s parents far and wide about the dangers of prescription drug abuse – now officially a "drug epidemic" in America.

"Over the past few years, we (the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey) have prosecuted 65 people, including five doctors and two pharmacists, for prescription drug trafficking," Fishman said in a statement that accompanied the news conference. "But we will never arrest our way out of this epidemic…. (We want) parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter medications and to safeguard the medications they keep at home."

To that end, the initiative, which Fishman said is a collaborative effort that includes the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, the state Jersey Department of Education, and others, recommends five steps for each household in the state: Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter medicines in your home; secure your medicine chest; dispose of your unwanted medicine; take your medicines exactly as prescribed.; and talk to your children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

"Kids can take the pills themselves, or share them with others at a party," Fishman said yesterday, as he explained how a simple ingestion of a seemingly innocent pill or two can lead to full blown and deadly addiction. "Teenagers could be at party in house.…That’s how it starts."

Then, said Brian Crowell, the head of the New Jersey Division of the DEA, after an addiction sets in, teenagers realize that "the pills are not always readily available" and they are expensive to buy on the street. But now they’re an opiate addict, he added, and heroin is opiate based – so next the kids may start buying $5 and $10 heroin bags on the street.

Fishman came armed with a raft of statistics that showed the scale and impact of the national problem. Among them, according to him: 2,500 teenagers nationwide will get high on a prescription drug for the first time today; one out of 12 high school seniors nationwide have tried oxycondone or a prescription drug like it; of those people who abuse prescription drugs, 71 percent of them get the drugs, for the first time, from their own home."

Dupont-Parisi, who said at the conference that her son began on the drugs after a back injury, also asked parents to watch and act; ""I consider myself to be a vigilant parent – and it happened under my eyes – which is why I’m involved today."