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Surprising Kids Killer: Methadone

CBS PALM BEACH and LAKE WORTH, Fla., April 10, 2006

(CBS) Parents and schools frequently warn kids about the dangers of drugs.

But, as The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith reports in the first of two parts, a drug that's rarely mentioned now kills more young people than any other in several states.

Methadone, Smith explains, the same drug used to help heroin addicts kick their habit, is now being prescribed as a painkiller. That makes it easier for young people to get, and that means more kids are abusing it and dying from overdoses of it.

Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington, among other places, have seen a rise in methadone-related deaths, Smith points out. In Maine last year, for the first time, drug-related deaths outnumbered deaths from car crashes, and the No. 1 drug in those deaths was methadone.

It typically doesn't provide a big high, Smith says, so kids think it's not working and take more of it or other substances, and the result can be fatal.

Sharon Snyder, of Palm Beach, Fla., lost her son to a methadone overdose.

On a patch of grass that used to be her lawn, Snyder has built a shrine to him.

"If tears could build a stairway," she read from a memorial in the shrine, "and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to heaven, and bring you home again."

She tells Smith Jasa, her only child, was a good student, who never got into trouble.

"He was just a very caring person and always tried to find the best in everybody," Snyder says. "(We were) extremely close. He was my best friend."

But one night, 19-year-old Jasa went to visit another friend, and never came home.

"I woke up at 5 in the morning and I knew he wasn't home. It's every parent's nightmare, and I don't know if it's because we were so close but, I just knew something was wrong with him. I knew he needed my help."

Tragically, Snyder was right. Sometime that night, Jasa had taken, or been given, methadone for the first time. He passed out, and never woke up.

 "And at 7 o'clock," Snyder says, "I was in the shower, and the phone rang, and it wasn't my son. It was the paramedics telling me to come to the hospital, and I kept asking them, 'What's going on with him. What's happened to my son?' And they wouldn't tell me, and I just knew. I just knew in my heart that it was over."

Then medical examiner's report said Jasa had succumbed to an overdose of methadone.

In part because it's not as heavily regulated as drugs such as OxyContin, Smith says, teenagers find methadone in their parents' medicine chests, sometimes with fatal results.

Methadone kills more young people in Florida than any other drug, Smith notes.

"The one prescription drug that keeps going up in terms of the absolute numbers of deaths and rates of increase, particularly for children, is methadone," says Jim McDonough, the former director of the Florida Office of Drug Control. "The facts are, it's murderous. Look at the death rate. It's absolutely out of control."

One reason, Smith says: Methadone stays in the system for days. So, every drink or drug taken afterwards can cause a lethal reaction. And too often, teens have no idea what they're taking.

Michael Petrillo of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office told Smith, "Before you go to a party, you go through your mom and dad's medicine cabinet and you take all different pills. And you walk in and just dump them in a bowl. And people just help themselves to pills in the bowl."

Undercover agents showed Smith just how easy methadone was to get, taking her with them on a methadone buy/sting in Lake Worth, Fla., where they quickly purchased methadone pills.

Each was 40 milligrams, and cost $20, Smith said. Each had indentations separating it into quarters, and the normal dose is probably a quarter of a pill, Smith said. But, "Kids don't know that. They take the whole thing, and that's how they end up dead."

Snyder may never know how much methadone killed Jasa, but even knowing that wouldn't bring back the son whose ashes she keeps in a locket around her neck, close to her heart.

Said Snyder: "People say to me, 'Why don't you just move on?' You never move on. You just go on every day."

On Tuesday, Smith looks at a program that's scaring kids straight when it comes to methadone.