TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — It's all over the news. It's in our communities. And it's bad. It is bad for the body, bad for the mind and bad for the environment.“It” is prescription drug abuse, misuse and improper disposal.A major reason for the upswing in Rx abuse is ease of access. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 70 percent of people who abuse Rx drugs say they get them from the medicine cabinet of family and friends.Rx medications flushed down the toilet end up in water supplies. Throwing them in the trash has led to accidental poisoning of children and animals. Unless the medication specifically recommends flushing it, do not put it down the drain.Take your unwanted, out-of-date prescription and over-the-counter drugs to the Rx Take Back Day, Saturday, April 28, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in both Truckee and Tahoe City. The event offers free, anonymous and convenient disposal.“The importance of proper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals is the environmental hazard when flushing them down the toilet and the potential contamination of our drinking water,” said Glen Harelson, chair of Tahoe-Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence and program manager with Health andamp; Human Services in Nevada and Placer County. “Also, it is the third most common drug used by youth in the Tahoe-Truckee area, after alcohol and marijuana.”
Just ask Ben Florsheim, a 2005 graduate of North Tahoe High School, about the dangers of prescription drugs.“I wasn't exactly Mr. Popular,” Florsheim said. “My first experience was smoking pot the summer before freshman year — it was easy to fit in. Then I continued, taking a drink, just on weekends, and then I got access to my parents' medicine cabinet.”A good student, he dabbled in a bit of everything, but by senior year, he liked the Vicodin, with Oxycontin his absolute drug of choice.In high school his addiction took precedence. He cheated to have more time to party, he took drugs to create a “stress-free” environment. As the drugs began to shut down his mind, his social aspects diminished.“I thought I was invincible, the trickiest trickster,” Florsheim admitted. “Looking back, what a thought process. Going out to dinner, like the family didn't notice me falling asleep in the corner.”Signs of use include, but are not limited to, a change in friends, lack of interest in previously engaging activities, like sports and academics, lowered inhibitions, irritability, aggression, slurred speech, anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, panic and suicidal or violent tendencies.“The best thing is to try to talk to the child,” said Harelson. “Be concerned, compassionate, tell them you want them do well and see them succeed. Take them our for activities they like to do.”Harelson emphasized not “everybody is doing it.” According to the 2010 California Healthy Kids Survey, 11 percent of Tahoe Truckee Unified School District ninth-graders reported ever using Rx or OTC to get high, and 12 percent of TTUSD ninth-graders reported ever using a Rx painkiller not prescribed to them.“Fortunately, we have seen very little evidence of prescription drug abuse in our school,” said Joanna Mitchell, principal of North Tahoe High School. “Students are more aware of the dangers of prescription drug use and are making healthy decisions. We have had only one disciplinary incident involving prescription drugs in the past five years.”She credits a coalition of the Placer County Sheriff's Department, Juvenile Probation and on-campus Community Service Officer Melinda Maehler, who runs the Youth in Action program, which involves students educating their peers about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.“Teachers and students also have strong, supportive relationships that lead to early intervention when students show signs of being at risk for substance abuse or other problems,” said Mitchell.
Florsheim's parents had to show tough love in the end. He went to college in Oregon thinking a change of pace would help. Unfortunately, he was kicked out of school within two years, moved back home and was caught doing drugs in his parents' house.“They gave me an ultimatum,” said Florsheim. “We will always love you, but we can't support your behavior. Move out or get treatment.”Florsheim wound up couch surfing, ditching work, until he hit emotional bottom. He wasn't sure he wanted to quit, but he knew he wanted his family and friends back.The biggest turning point in treatment was realizing he had to do it for himself.“You can't do it for your baby, for your family or for your friends,” said Florsheim.He described the incredible, debilitating pain of detoxing, what he said you would never wish on your worst enemy — the sweats, chills, tremors, itching, sleepless nights.He also described the freedom of sobriety, being pulled over twice by law enforcement and being told, “Have a nice night.”Florsheim got his real estate license last summer and is working toward a degree in communications at University of Nevada, Reno. His minor is substance abuse: “I figured I majored in it long enough, I might as well minor in it.”Education and awareness are key to keeping drugs out of kid's hands.“The first step is to be aware,” said Harelson. “Second, take steps to secure drugs … keep them under lock and key.”Placer County Deputy Sheriff of North Lake Tahoe Michael Beggs, who assists in monitoring and security as “the uniform” for the Tahoe City location, urges everyone in the community to get rid of unwanted drugs at the Take Back event. RX Take Back Day is a collaborative effort of TT-FWDD, Placer and Nevada County Sheriff and Health and Human Services, Truckee Police Department, Tahoe Forest Hospital District, water quality, waste management, Town of Truckee, Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency and the DEA. For information contact the Future Without Drug Dependence at FWDD@ttcf.net or 530-546-1924.