boston.com Your Life your connection to The Boston Globe
REGION

Cautionary tales from 'Generation Rx' peers

Seventh-graders hear details of slide into addiction to latest drugs of choice -- prescription pills

A new kind of drug addict is emerging nationally and locally, as more teenagers turn to their medicine cabinets to get high. Call it Generation Rx.

In a trend that an addiction specialist, Dr. Punyamurtula S. Kishore, founder of the National Library on Addictions, says he has seen firsthand in suburbs south of Boston, pills are replacing alcohol as the drug of choice -- and teens are replacing the 30-somethings that used to make up the majority of his patients.

A nationwide survey released last month by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that members of ''Generation Rx," as it dubbed them, are using prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin or stimulants such as Ritalin as much -- or more -- than other illegal drugs.

Last week, Kishore visited Cohasset Middle School with three ''drug ambassadors," fresh-faced young women who began drinking alcohol or popping pills when they were about the same age as the 135 seventh-graders in the auditorium. The students' parents filled the back rows.

At first, when Kishore opened the discussion about the medical dangers of abusing prescription drugs and urged the students never to share their medications, the audience members were hesitant to participate. But when the drug ambassadors began to speak, the students listened intently to their cautionary tales. And then they started asking questions.

Christine, 21, of Lowell, said she started using marijuana and hallucinogens when she was 11, and then switched to cocaine. She discovered the painkiller Oxycontin when she was 17, ''and from there, everything went down hill."

She barely graduated from high school, then got kicked out of college. Soon she was so incapacitated by the various prescription drugs she was taking that she was unable to get out of bed. She snubbed her friends, and stayed in her room. To get the $85,000 that she spent on drugs each year, Christina says, she lied and stole. The stories of prison and passing out on the street seemed a world away from the giggling students, with their braces and ponytails. Questions ran the gamut, from ''What is Oxycontin?" to ''How did you get around security at your school?"

''I didn't even graduate from high school, to be honest," said Stella, a 19-year-old from Everett who, like her two fellow ambassadors, asked that her last name not be used. She says she started on marijuana and Oxycontin at age 13, and then went to heroin when she could no longer afford an $80 pill every day.

''I've been two weeks clean, after trying for two years," she said, her voice trembling.

Kishore said such cases are becoming more and more common in his decade-old addiction treatment practice, which has offices in Bridgewater and Sandwich.

''Teenagers have become very savvy," he said, with many fluent in the language of pharmaceuticals, tossing around names like Percocet, Adderall, and Vicodin with ease.

Many mistakenly believe that prescription pills are safe because they come from doctors, and they often are easier to get than illegal drugs, he said -- an observation echoed in the recent national survey.

And young people are being affected at a time when they are most vulnerable.

''There are a lot of stresses and pressures that middle-school students face" that sometimes slip under the radar, said Nancy Oddleifson, a parent who attended a program on the topic last year and campaigned to have the drug ambassadors join the discussion.

Those stresses -- and not just peer pressure -- can lead to the beginnings of addiction because ''we have a performance-oriented society," Kishore said. ''We want kids to do better and better in school," which leads to common diagnoses of attention deficit disorder, and prescriptions for Ritalin or other stimulants, which may become the first drugs kids share.

According to the recent survey, 10 percent of teenagers, or 2.3 million people nationwide, have tried drugs prescribed for ADD without a doctor's order.

Kishore is hoping that the ambassadors may connect with students on their own level, in an unforgettable way, to help them understand what is at stake.

''My brain stopped growing when I was 13," Stella told the students.

''If I sat in your history class and your teacher said something, I probably wouldn't even know what they were saying."

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES