Youth drug problem still growing here

Published 10:34 pm Monday, October 27, 2003

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Managing Editor
If teenagers could follow closely the progress of a person's addiction to hard drugs over the course of one year, seeing the ravaging toll taken on both body and mind, they would have no problem just saying no, according to one man who sees the price drug users pay on an almost daily basis.
"I promise you they would never do it," said Commander Keith Hutchins, who heads the 21st Judicial District Drug Task Force.
With or without the benefit of that perspective, too many young people in the county are abusing illegal drugs, Hutchins said. And there is a wide of array of substances available to them.
"Prescription pills are a big problem," Hutchins said. "Oxycontin is a growing problem. We still have a lot of marijuana, and crack is still around. Meth (crystal methamphetamine) is the fastest growing.
"It's hard to pinpoint one that is the biggest problem. We make more crack arrests than we do the others, but we see a lot of the harder drugs growing in the younger generation."
Agent Mike Lambert said: "We're starting to see a lot of marijuana usage in the younger kids. These are 13-, 14-year-olds."
Whatever the drug, Hutchins said that the pattern by which young people acquire controlled substances is well established.
"Most of them get it through friends," Hutchins said. "One of the friends will know somebody. What we find happening in the school is that everybody pools their money and somebody goes and buys it.
"It may pass through three or four sets of hands before it gets from the person who sold it to the person who is using it."
There has been a lot of prescription medication abuse among young people in the county, Hutchins said, especially of Oxycontin, a high-powered synthetic opiate.
Last year, he said, there were three fatal overdoses in the county as a result of abusing the drug.
On the street. Oxycontin sells for $1 per milligram, making it an expensive buy. It comes in 10, 20, 40 and 80 milligram pills. Most of the pills seen here are 40s and 80s, Hutchins said.
Often, the dealer will get the pill from an elderly person to whom they have been prescribed for pain.
They offer the patient, say, $30 per pill, then turn around and sell them at the $1 per milligram price, making a neat profit.
Sometimes, Hutchins said, the dealers will pay for the patient's prescription, or even their doctor visits to get their hands on the pills.
"There are some doctors who give them a lot more freely than I feel like they should," Hutchins said.
This week is National Red Ribbon Week, when annually communities across the country take a stand against drug use among their youth. Brewton and Escambia County are no different. Hutchins, Lambert and other members of the task force will spend much of the week in area schools, talking to kids about the dangers of drug use.
Parents, also, are urged to take a part in the fight, Hutchins said.
They should know what their kids are doing, and most importantly, who they hang out with.
As Lambert put it, "You lay down with a dog, you get up with a flea."