new choice in drug abuse
Teens turn to prescriptions
As school systems step up monitoring
students for alcohol abuse, police and health officials
say more teenagers are getting high on prescription
drugs like the antianxiety pill Klonopin, which family
members said an Arlington teen took before killing
himself last week.
The drug, distributed in tablets known by
young people as K-pins, is harder to detect than alcohol and
perceived to be safer than street drugs like heroin and
cocaine. Klonopin is widely available in families' medicine
cabinets and can be purchased online through offshore
pharmacies for between $2 and $5 a dose, doctors said.
''Faculty in schools across the region
have been very effective at cracking down on alcohol. To
counter that, the kids now have gone to using Klonopin as
the drug of choice," said Arlington Police Chief Frederick
Ryan, who plans to talk to area police chiefs about the drug
at an upcoming meeting.
Teenagers are experimenting with Klonopin
and Vicodin even before they try traditional gateway drugs
such as alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, said Dr. John
Knight, director of the Center for Adolescent Substance
Abuse Research at Children's Hospital.
The suicide of popular Arlington High
School senior Cameron O'Connor and the subsequent arrest of
two of his schoolmates for selling prescription drugs,
including Klonopin, have renewed the call for random drug
testing in some communities and more parent education about
benzodiazepines, the class of drugs to which Klonopin and
Xanax belong, in addition to opiates such as OxyContin,
Percocet, and Vicodin.
While some principals and superintendents
said they are unaware of Klonopin use among students,
several Belmont students told parents last Thursday in an
annual drug and alcohol forum that classmates are abusing
prescription drugs, said Jonathan Landman, the principal of
''That's one theme that a number of us
noticed which none of us noted in last year's panel," said
Landman, adding that students did not name specific drugs.
''We need to learn what we can about it and figure out if
there's something educational we can do."
In Arlington, O'Connor's death has
prompted school officials to consider using drug-sniffing
dogs to check lockers and testing students for drugs, a rare
move among Massachusetts schools. Herb Levine, former Salem
superintendent whose son, Joel, was addicted to OxyContin
for three years, said yesterday that every school system in
the state should consider randomly testing middle and high
school students for drugs.
''It would give parents something to rely
on," said Levine, who also spent 19 years as a high school
principal. ''So many parents have no clue. If anybody should
have known, I should have known. But still, for quite some
time, my wife and I were fooled by our son when he was
Doctors noted, though, that standard drug
tests used by schools often do not screen for prescription
New Bedford middle and high schools will
start randomly testing students for drugs in March, said
Carl Alves, coordinator of the city's drug-free student
assistance program. The tests, for which parents voluntarily
sign up their children, would screen for prescription drugs
including benzodiazepines, he said.
''A lot of families in the suburbs have
good medical care and will oftentimes have these drugs in
their medicine cabinets," Alves said. ''With kids,
availability and ease of use are two key factors when kids
are using drugs. Klonopin doesn't smell, but you can still
be high on it. And if there is a network of people selling
these things, it's easy access."
Teenagers compared the high on Klonopin to
being drunk, police said. When the drug is abused, it can be
dangerous -- and when mixed with alcohol, it can be deadly,
said Dr. Michael W. Shannon, chief of emergency medicine at
''People describe it as a very mellow
high," Shannon said. ''If you mix it with something like
alcohol, it makes you very inebriated. . . . It impairs
Shannon said he did not want to draw
conclusions about the O'Connor case, but he said that
particularly when combined with alcohol, ''it makes people
do things they would otherwise not likely do, including take
O'Connor first tried Klonopin two months
ago after a school semi-formal, said Joe Boike, O'Connor's
uncle and a sergeant with the State Police. Boike and
O'Connor's two brothers told the Globe that the 17-year-old
was not depressed and said they believe Klonopin drove him
to suicide. Police said they believe O'Connor took Klonopin
before he died, but toxicology results are not back yet.
Shelley Rosenstock, spokeswoman for the
Swiss-based Roche Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Klonopin,
said she was not aware of teenagers abusing the drug and
said the drug is safe when users consult their doctors.
A senior at Arlington High, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said prescription drug abuse seems
to be on the rise at his school and others. He said most of
the students he knows who take ''K-pins" buy them from
students who have been prescribed the drug or who have
access to someone else's prescription.
He believes the reason prescription drug
abuse is popular is because there is little for teenagers to
do in Arlington. Kids get sick of going to the movies or out
to dinner, he said.
Tracy Jan can be
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