Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series produced by the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith. The entire series will be published online at www.cabotstarherald.com. Next: State Addiction treatment available locally.
FORT SMITH — Viewed as a pervading problem on college campuses nationwide, prescription drug abuse is hitting Arkansas students harder than most.
“It’s still very rampant,” said Diane Bynum, program coordinator of Horizon, a local adolescent treatment center. “It’s really scary because they don’t understand how mixing all the drugs together can cause a death. You mix the alcohol and the prescription drugs, and they just don’t wake up.”
A 2011 survey conducted by the Arkansas Division of Behavioral Health Services indicates that by the time Arkansas high school students have reached their senior year, close to one in five has abused prescription drugs.
“We treat here at Horizon ages 13 to 18,” Bynum said. “But we’re seeing it from age 15 on to 25.”
In March, Bynum attended a prescription drug seminar hosted by the National Governors Association in Little Rock. According to the association, Arkansas was reported to have the worst teen prescription pain reliever abuse problem in the United States by 2007.
“We’re still the second in the nation for overdose of prescription drugs,” Bynum said. “I can’t believe we’re second.”
The National Council on Patient Information and Education calls the nonmedical use of prescription drugs, most notably stimulants, sedatives and pain relievers, a “growing, yet unaddressed problem.”
“In fact, about one in four college students has illegally used prescription drugs, and many more have been offered these medications by friends or fellow students,” the council says.
Horizon’s parent organization, Western Arkansas Counseling & Guidance Center, works with local college students who have prescription drug addictions.
“We have a contract to have the counseling clinic at the (University of Arkansas at Fort Smith),” said Joni Padilla, coordinator of marketing and community relations at the guidance center. “Most all the students have access up to eight sessions per year. That’s part of their tuition.”
Last year, UAFS seniors used a pilot leadership class to create a resource for parents and teenagers about prescription-drug abuse.
Tasked with tackling a community issue, seven students used their research to build a brochure, air an anti-drug commercial and create an informational Facebook page.
“I’ve got a lot of old friends from high school where prescription drug abuse has ruined their lives,” Patrick Upchurch said during a class presentation last April. “We went to college, and they stayed back and used pills.”
A study by Partnership for a Drug Free America shows that 73 percent of teens who used prescription drugs said they did so to deal with the pressures and stress of school.
“In Arkansas, we have a lot of health issues, and prescriptions are written for legit reasons,” Bynum said. “There is a lot of prescription medication available that you don’t have to know a drug dealer to get. I think it’s very hard for families to realize kids are getting them from the home and not on the street.”