Parents and students who packed Ramona High School’s performing arts wing for the Drug Abuse Prevention Night on May 9 heard a powerful presentation that told them heroin use and deaths from prescription drug abuse are on the rise.
“Heroin by far is becoming the drug of choice,” Sgt. David Ross of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department told the approximately 280 people who filled the room to capacity.
“I could tell you we could walk out this door and I could drive you a quarter mile from here and we could purchase heroin, methamphetamines or cocaine, anything you want,” said Ross, adding that would be one of about 20 locations in Ramona.
“It’s rampant in Ramona. But don’t be scared about that ‘cause it’s rampant across Southern California,” he said.
Ross, a deputy sheriff for 22 years, said he worked undercover in narcotics in the San Diego region until August 2010 and now supervises a team that works undercover.
He started the presentation with warnings about teenage abuse of prescription drugs. Society has a misconception that pills can cure every problem, he said, and teens believe prescription pills are safer than street drugs.
Prescription drug-related deaths continue to climb, he said, adding that he is waiting for the final statistics but believes nearly 900 people died in the region from prescription drugs in 2011. U.S. officials are calling overdose deaths from powerful painkillers a nationwide epidemic, he said.
Ross explained pharming parties where teens and even pre-teens are asked to bring some kind of medication, even by raiding their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets. The pills are thrown into a punch bowl, he said, and mixed.
The teens will play a game with dice or numbers to determine how many pills to take — doesn’t matter what they are, he said. “They’ll take them to see what happens. Very, very common.”
Prescription drugs have become the second most abused drug behind marijuana, said Ross, and a survey revealed that 13.4 million 12- to 17-year-olds said they could get prescription drugs in a day or less.
Rattling off a list of abused prescription drugs, Ross said most teenagers in the room were probably aware of them. He mentioned Adderall and Ritalin, used to treat attention deficit disorder, but abused by young people to stay awake and alert for exams in high school and college. Other abused prescription drugs in San Diego include Xanax, Vicodin, Morphine, Ambien, and Oxycontin.
“By far it’s been the worst of the worse when we talk about prescription drugs,” Ross said of Oxycontin.
Until 2010, Oxycontin ran rampant from Florida to Southern California, he said, and the preferred 80-milligram pill sold on the street for $80. Abusers could smoke it like heroin or crush it and snort it like cocaine. After 2010, Ross said, the manufacturer of Oxycontin was persuaded to make it tamper resistant so it can no longer be smoked and, if crushed, doesn’t have the same effects. Thus, young people are switching to heroin, he said.