SPECIAL REPORT: Opioids Abuse Growing Among Teens

They are your childen. Your babies. Now teenagers, growing up too fast.

But these kids are facing some very adult issues when it comes to drugs, both at home and in school.

The numbers are staggering.

276,000 teens are “non-medical” users of prescription drugs.

122,000 12-17 year olds admit to being addicted.

Pills which have an important purpose, but end up leading to more problems than they ever fix.

“(Opioids)Hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine those kind of drugs.” explained Dr Jonathan Sack, M.D. of Island Family Medicine. “Its horrifying how big it is.”

Big, and right in our backyard.

At his Hilton Head Clinic, Dr Jonathan sack and his partner are currently treating 325 people battling addiction.

“Initially the medication is there for the pain but eventually the body becomes dependent on the opiate and can’t function without it and the pain becomes the vehicle to get the medication. The dependence on the medicine and the pain become closely intertwined with each other,” said Dr. Sack. “You need the pain to get the meds. the more you need the medicine because you are dependent on it the more than pain escalates.”

“I think what happens is the opiates cause damage to the receptors in the brain so they don’t put out the hormones that make you feel good like dopamine and Seratonin, ” said Dr Sack. “When the brain is in that state you don’t feel good. You have no energy, you feel down, depressed, life is terrible. The simple solution is I know what will make me feel better and the first sniff of an opiate and they are right back into it.”

“They don’t set out to become addicted they set out to ease the pain,” said Dr Debi Lynes, addiction therapist.

Dr. Debi Lynes deals with a growing group in need of help, teens. Boys and girls 12-17 years old.

“Kids realize it feels good to take them. Takes the pressure off and gives them a temporary escape,” explains Dr Lynes.

Lynes likes to call them dependents, not addicts. People who need the drugs just to get by.

“The difference between treating an adolescent and an adult is zero,” explained Dr Lynes. “Its all about stages and willingness to change. If a kid really wants to get off, to not be dependent, it will happen.”

“Do kids think its fun? No. They like the idea of numbing avoiding and escaping.”
“They don’t want to be addicted. they don’t want to ruin their lives, they don’t want to ruin their families’ lives, they don’t want to get in trouble in school. But at the point that they’ve come, they’ve lost that ability. The physical addiction or the physical dependance on that drug has taken over.”

“Of course its a problem, its always going to be a problem. Its never going to go away,” said Amanda O’Nan, Hilton Head Island High Principal

As Principal of Hilton Head Island High School, Amanda O’Nan has dealt with the drug problems for almost a decade.

“Your stereotype of who’s doing drugs is completely out the window when it comes to Hilton Head High Island High school,” explained O’Nan. “because it cross all barriers, all abilities, all students, all grade levels, all genders.”

In the last year, 9 Hilton Head High students were referred to authorities for possession of drugs, 13 for using the drugs and one for distribution.

In all of Beaufort County there were 83 students suspended for drugs.

The biggest problem in the halls and classrooms at Hilton Head, isn’t painkillers, its Xanax.

“They tell you its easy to hide its hard to detect, it doesn’t have an odor, it otherwords the symptoms are things that put you to sleep in class,” explained the Principal.

Its something O’Nan admits is a problem, talking about it in parent teacher schoolwide letters.

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Even sending home drug information to parents so they can fight the issue at home, before it gets to school.

“99% of the time they are supportive and are going to support what you say or do,” said O’Nan. “Until its their child that’s been caught and they are facing school and legal consequences.”

How does she learn about these offenders, or someone with a drug problem?

“Students are blatantly honest,” said O’Nan. “I think if you have a rapport with students and they respect you and they are not going to have backlash from being safe with their opinion,”
“They tell you exactly who’s doing what, where its coming from whether its verbally or whether its a text to my cell phone.”
“Because deep down inside everyone wants to do the right thing everyone wants to be a protector of their friends.”

Sometimes they are better protectors than their own parents.

“They (the drugs) are right in own parents medicine cabinet. They get them right in their own house. Parents don’t put two and two together sometimes.”

“They are not generally happy with the outcome and want a less harsher consequence,” O’Nan said about parents.  “But tough toenails. Your child messed up and i cant have them do that in this building. And im not going to allow it to happen nor be acceptable.”

“People are sometimes afraid to say we have a problem because of the potential backlash or the stereotypical thought you might have or the lack of support but at this point in my career, i have a huge support system, i’ve admitted i don’t have all the answers and i need help.”

Help which can come from other drugs like Suboxone, which Dr Sack prescribes to his patients to help kick the habit.

Dr Lynes says therapy only works when someone is ready and willing to make a change. If you know someone, a friend, a classmate that has a problem, talk to them, or talk to someone, to get them help before its too late.

20,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses two years ago, and the numbers only keep going up.


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