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|Youth opt for prescription drugs|
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles with 4th Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones concerning the drug problem in Ouachita Parish.
Years ago, parents, at times, dealt with children raiding their liquor cabinet in search of alcohol. Today, there's another concern facing parents - children abusing prescription medication, which they obtain from their homes.
According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, more teens abuse prescription medication than any other illicit drug besides marijuana.
Advocates against this growing trend say children believe painkillers provide them with a "safe high," which is one reason for the increase in usage among children ages 12-17.
Prescription drug usage among youth also has increased since 1995 due to the easy availability of the drugs.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "Abuse of prescription painkillers now ranks second - only behind marijuana- as the nation's most prevalent illegal drug problem."
Many children first begin experimenting with painkillers simply by sneaking into their parent's drug cabinet.
Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones has witnessed firsthand how people can become seriously addicted to prescription medication.
Jones is adamant that parents find help for their children who are abusing prescription medication before it ruins their lives.
"Everyone who has a child is in danger of having a drug abuser or drug addict," Jones said. "Everyone … no one is exempt, including the DA."
He said parents have full authority over their children and they have the right to find out if their child is abusing prescription drugs, or any other substance.
"If you have children living in your home, they have no constitutional rights in your home," Jones said. "Search their rooms. You look and see if they are using drugs."
"If they come home acting strange, there's a reason for that, so find out why," Jones continued. "If they start running with a different group of friends, find out what's going on … there's a reason they are doing that. If they dress differently, act differently or talk differently, find out what's going on because you are about to lose your child.
"They don't change simply for the sake of changing. They change for a reason, and many times that reason is not good."
He warns parents they can look as nearby as the Ouachita Correctional Center to see how far prescription drug addiction can push people.
The district attorney's office and local authorities have dealt with people who were consuming 60-plus pills a day.
These were not what people would consider your typical drug offenders, Jones said. They included doctors and lawyers and business leaders in the community.
Some of these men and women arrested over the past few years were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for their addiction.
Some of the women have been found to be abusing these drugs while pregnant. Unfortunately, their babies were born with the same drugs in their system, Jones said.
"I think people should see a child withdraw from drugs, and then maybe they would think twice before they ever put any of that garbage into their system," Jones said. "Because when that child is born, that child goes through withdrawals."
A child born addicted to drugs typically remains in the hospital longer than other babies for extra care during the withdrawal period, Jones said.
"I think that parent should be forced to sit there every day and watch that baby and know what they've done to it," he said.
This year the district attorney's office worked to have the Legislature pass a law dealing with pregnant drug abusers.
"We tried to get this law passed that would allow us - if we came in contact with a woman who is drug addicted and pregnant - to force her to get treatment," Jones explained. "We got it made into a study resolution and we're going to try next year to do something with that."
"We will have to involve the substance abuse community, the addictive disorder community, and the legal and medical community to come up with a satisfactory solution to this problem," he added.
Rep. Frank Hoffmann plans to work with Jones and others to draft a bill "that will allow us to help addictive mothers so their children will not be born addicted," Jones said.
"That's a long hard fight," he said.
Regardless, treatment is the key for these people, and until the criminal justice system embraces that concept, there will continue to be problems, Jones said.
"Drugs are more than just a criminal problem," Jones explained. "Drugs are a social problem, and we're going to have to realize that, and we're going to have to offer more treatment. It's 10 times more expensive to incarcerate than it is to treat. It makes economic and common sense to do that."
While treatment is important for all drug addicts, an adolescent drug addict is not treated the same as an adult, Jones said.
Adolescents are treated in a separate institution.
"The state of Louisiana at one time had 58 beds available for adolescents out of four and a half million people," he said. "That, in itself, is a crime. Something needs to be done about that. These kids need treatment when they get addicted to this stuff, or when they abuse it.
"There is a difference between an abuser and an addict. Most kids are abusers, but they die just the same, and if they keep it up, they'll become addicted … there's no question about it.
"So, if we can get to them early and treat them before they reach that addict stage, we can save them. If you can stop someone from abusing drugs, and eventually growing into a drug addict, then you have made a productive citizen, a taxpayer, instead of a drain on society."
The state must offer more adolescent treatment centers, according to Jones, as well as more adult treatment centers to adequately address the problem of drug addiction.
"We can save these kids if we treat them," he said. "But, if we leave them alone until they get into adulthood, then they're gone. And, I'll tell you where they are … they are scattered all across Louisiana in the penitentiary system.
"If we get to them while they are young, we can save them, and we should put every effort into doing that. Once we get this state to realize that and do that, we will save a lot of lives and a lot of money."