Battling The Prescription Drug Epidemic

couric drugs

In the war on drugs, according to most national surveys, teenage smoking, alcohol and marijuana use is down. The bad news is that abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is going up. CBS News anchor Katie Couric begins our four-part series called "Generation Rx."

Meet Erin. She's your average, ambitious college coed.

"It's just this instant happy. And it's not a false happy. It feels so genuine," she said. "I mean, I stay up all night, I'm literally up every hour every day"

She told CBS News what gets her through both term papers and toga parties at a private school in the south.

"When I'm on Adderall, I'm a person who's driven and has lots of energy," she said.

Adderall is a drug used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder, something Erin doesn't have.

"And then if I take something like valium, I usually drink on that too a little bit, and I have a blast, I have a wonderful night. I don't remember it the next morning." she said.

In fact, Erin admits to abusing as many as 10 prescription or over-the-counter drugs in a single day - a phenomenon kids in the know call "stacking," Couric reports.

"You take one of these in the morning because you need to get up for school, whereas in the afternoon, you need to calm down so take one of these," said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA).

According to the PDFA, about one-in-five teenagers has admitted to abusing prescription drugs.

"We see teenagers saying 'I'm under a lot of stress,'" Pasierb said. "'I'm under stress to perform, get good grades, be a good child, be a good athlete' … all of those things. And those lead to pressures which A, cause kids to party to escape. And B, cause them to abuse certain drugs very tactically for their school performance."

The PDFA's research shows these drugs are easy to get - and easy to mistake for being somehow safer than cocaine or heroin.

"What we're hearing from kids is these are household products. These are things they're getting from mom's medicine cabinet or friends' medicine cabinet," Pasierb said. "And they believe very truly that it's a safer way to get high. Which is a real falsehood."

No one knows better than Salisbury, Mass., police chief Dave L'Esperance, who's witnessed four kids younger than 22 die from prescription drug overdoses.

"I wish I could find a word synonymous but stronger than 'epidemic,'" L'Esperance said.

During his 20 years on a regional drug task force, L'Esperance saw the junkies' drug of choice shift from crack cocaine to anti-anxiety medications like Klonopin, and painkillers, such as OxyContin.

"Who's the enemy here? I mean it's not like cocaine where it's from Columbia," he said. "It's not heroin from Afghanistan. This stuff is manufactured right here."

But this one soldier in the war on drugs couldn't keep every kid clean. Not even one living under his own roof.

Earlier this year, one of those four local boys who lost his life was the chief's 20-year-old son, Christopher.

Couric asked him: "When did you first realize that your son Christopher had a drug problem?"

"Probably when he was about 15," L'Esperance said.

"He started abusing methadone wafers?" Couric asked. "Had you ever heard of that before, Chief?"

"No, no," he said. "Prescription. Synthetic heroin is what it is."

Couric asked: "How was it discovered that he had OD'd?"

"I found him," L'Esperance said. "It's happenin' everywhere. It can happen in the school parkin' lot. It can happen in your driveway."

It happened because these drugs are so accessible, and kids think they're invincible.

"I feel fine when I take these pills," Erin said. "Now, I've done it and it's not that bad."