by Michael Brindley, Nashua Telegraph

CONCORD – One in five teens in New Hampshire say they have abused prescription drugs at least once, a trend that has led New Hampshire to create a guide for parents about medications most likely to be misused by their children.

The state on Thursday launched a website, drugfreeNH.org, with information about pain relievers, stimulants and anti-depressants.

It also provides information about alcohol and marijuana, which are still the drugs of choice among teens, according to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of New Hampshire school students.

That survey also showed 20.4 percent of students reported having taken a prescription drug, such as Xanax, OxyContin or Ritalin, at least once without a prescription. That statistic is in line with the results from a national survey.

It was the first time the state had asked teens about their abuse of prescription drugs in the survey, given to high school students every other year. At a press conference Thursday, officials who worked on designing the site said prescription drug abuse is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

“Misuse of prescription medications can have really tragic consequences, not only for the individuals using them but for families and communities,” said Dr. Seddon Savage, director of the Dartmouth Center on Addiction, Recovery and Education.

Savage was one of the speakers during the press conference, held in the State House. The “One in Five” slogan is part of the marketing campaign for the site, meant to focus on the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.

“It’s a daunting statistic,” said Joe Harding, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services. It’s not just a problem among teens, Harding said. Last year, more citizens died from prescription drug overdoses – 164 – then in car accidents – 110.

The website was developed by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services and the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention.

At the press conference, Charles Rosa of Seabrook spoke about his family’s loss as a result of prescription drugs. He has lost two of his six children to drug overdoses. His two oldest sons died of overdoses of heroin and a fetanyl patch.

Rosa is a mixed martial arts trainer and was prescribed a painkiller after suffering an injury. One of his sons began stealing them, leading to his addiction to heroin.

Rosa said he lives with the guilt, wishing he had done more to prevent his sons from getting involved in drugs. He now speaks at schools and events around the state, raising awareness for prevention of prescription drug abuse.

“I miss my boys,” he said. “I hope this helps people and families because this stuff is no joke.”

Starting in the fall, 10 regional networks will host “One in Five” events to raise awareness about the website and facts and information about how to prevent prescription drug abuse.

Bill Hughen, director of guidance at Alvirne High School in Hudson, said Thursday that while prescription drug abuse isn’t as prevalent as some other drugs, it’s an issue the school is taking seriously.

“The tough part with prescription drugs is that they’re so out there in the community,” Hughen said. “There are people who have legitimate medical issues and somehow these drugs turn up in the hands of students.”

Among the recommendations for prevention on the site is for parents to keep their medicine cabinets locked. But Hughen said often it is the students to whom the medications are prescribed. Many students are prescribed painkillers for injuries or Ritalin or Concerta for Attention Deficit Disorders, he said.

“They could they take them and sell them to friends,” Hughen said. “That has happened on some occasions.”

Another problem in dealing with prescription drugs is that their use is so difficult to detect. Unlike with alcohol or marijuana, there are no smells associated with the drugs. Students could be abusing them without anyone ever knowing, Hughen said.

By comparison, the abuse of prescription drugs is still well below the use of alcohol and marijuana. In the 2009 survey, 68.5 percent of teens reported having had alcohol at least once; 40.5 percent reported having tried marijuana at least once.

The website launched Thursday includes different areas for teens and parents. For teens, there are tips for how to deal with peer pressure, as well as myths and realities of different drugs. There are also links for where to get help and how to recover from addiction.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.

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