Curb Prescription Abuse Among Our Youth

There isn’t any way to sugarcoat my story. I lost a child to a prescription drug overdose and my life has never been the same.

My son was happy and fun-loving. He loved sports, was respectful and was a great big brother. He brought so much joy to our family. The pain of losing a child so young, with a life of so much promise, is unbearable. I live with this heartbreak every day.

At 17, Jarrod was prescribed an opioid painkiller after breaking his collarbone in a dirt biking accident. The better he felt when taking the pills, the more he took. He and his friends soon discovered that they could crush and smoke the pills to get a faster and better high. Three of his friends began seeing a doctor who prescribed large quantities of prescription pain pills, many of which they shared with Jarrod and he chose to abuse.

In January 2010, my son lost his life. He was 19 years old. My husband and I found him at 3 a.m., barely breathing. He pumped his chest and tried to resuscitate him while I called 911. He passed away at 3:47 a.m. in the hospital where he was born. The entire time, his 15-year-old brother was asleep. Now Blake is 20 and living without his only sibling and best friend.

That same year, three of Jarrod’s friends also died of prescription drug overdoses.

For this reason, I support AB 623, by North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, which includes important tools to help reduce the availability of drugs for illicit use. The measure would ensure that those prescribed opioids are properly counselled about how to store and dispose of pills. It also encourages the use of painkillers that incorporate abuse-deterrent formulation (ADF) technology to prevent the manipulation of opioids.

In Humboldt County, 39 of the 174 accidental overdose deaths from 2009 to 2013 were caused by opioids, according to the county’s Department of Health and Human Services Alcohol and Other Drugs program.

My home, Orange County, ranks second in the nation for accidental fatal overdoses of prescription drugs for individuals ages 15 to 24. From 2007 to 2010, there were 80 accidental opiate overdoses from the ages of 18 to 24, and in 2012, the death toll jumped to 188. Fatal opioid overdoses have exceeded fatal car accidents.

There is no way to sugarcoat those numbers. Our children are dying. And we must do everything in our power to prevent one more death.

Since Jarrod’s death, I have become an ardent activist for policies that will reduce prescription pain pills on the streets and keep them out of the hands of our youth.

Manipulating opioids is the most dangerous type of abuse, and often leading to overdose and accounting for the majority of ER visits and deaths. It is what my son and his friends did. Roughly 30 percent of prescription opioid abuse is attributed to the manipulation of the pill. Many young people get pills straight from medicine cabinets in their homes.

ADF opioids provide the same pain relief as their conventional counterparts, yet are designed to prevent manipulation. Some are virtually indestructible and cannot be crushed, ground, or dissolved to get a faster high. Others are formulated to block the euphoric effects when the pills are manipulated.

AB 623 will require health plans to allow medical providers to determine when an ADF opioids are appropriate, enabling physicians to provide relief to legitimate pain patients while reducing the street value of opioids and curbing misuse.

After my son died, I found comfort in connecting with parents who also lost a son or daughter to an overdose. I have since helped create a 28-minute short documentary, “Overtaken,” chronicling the stories of young adults. I am dumbfounded by the volume of stories that mirror my own, and from the staggering numbers of young adults taking prescription pills from their very own homes.

I strongly believe had AB 623 been law, Jarrod’s death, and countless others, could have been prevented.

I cannot bring Jarrod back but I can help prevent this from happening to someone else’s child. AB 623 will not eradicate prescription drug overdoses, but it is a necessary and important step.

Jodi Barber is co-creator of the short documentary “Overtaken.” 

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