Matt Lombardi is a producer for the CBS Evening News in New York. He co-produced Katie's series this week on "Generation Rx."
For years, Katie has been interested in tackling the topic of Kids & Prescription Drug abuse. But we weren't sure how to do it. Then in 2005, I saw a movie a friend of mine had produced called "The Chumscrubber," starring Glenn Close and Jamie Bell. Written in reaction to the Columbine High School massacre, the movie was a dark comedy / social commentary about the deep disconnect between parents and their kids, leaving teens with a void they sought prescription drugs to fill. The movie's message was life in suburbia U.S.A. is "overrated and overmedicated."
I took Katie to see the movie and afterwards, she was set on doing two things: 1) going home to grill her daughters, and 2) doing more reporting on the topic. Our research bore out the harsh reality of the problem. For example, according to the President's National Drug Control Policy:
• Next to marijuana, the most common illegal drugs teens are using to get high are prescription medications. 2.1 million teens abused prescription drugs in 2005. Nearly 1 in 10 seniors use Vicodin non-medically; nearly 1 in 20 use Oxycontin. And they're more likely than young adults to become addicted to prescription drugs.
• Too many teens see popping pills as a painless high. Almost 50% of kids believe that prescription drugs are much safer to use than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor.
• Another disturbing trend is that teens are using the Internet to "get smart" about drug use. Teens feel empowered by the Internet – not necessarily to buy drugs – but to learn about which drugs to take for a certain effect; or how much to "safely" mix without overdosing.
• Teens have easy access to prescription drugs and get them for free. They're not getting these drugs from a sinister character on a street corner. Often, teens take them from family, relatives, and friends. 57% of teens say they get prescription drugs for free from a relative or friend, or take them without asking. Data show that girls are more likely than boys to abuse prescription drugs.
We all read carefully the "take two a day with meals" admonishment on the label. But how many of us take as seriously the warning to "keep out of reach of children"?
Editor's note: You can watch the first installment of the series in the video link above. The series concludes on Thursday's Evening News.