Peggy Matta worries about the peer pressure and dangers her two children will be exposed to when they soon enter high school.
The Lake Fenton parent never thought, however, that prescription drugs would be on her list of concerns.
Matta was among the handful of parents who attended a presentation on the dangers of misused medications at Lake Fenton High School on Monday.
“I haven’t really seen anything about it or heard anything about it,” she said. “I wanted to educate myself and stay one step ahead.”
The Lake Fenton District Health Committee put the program together because drug abuse has long been a concern of parents. No longer, however, are illicit drugs the only worry. They've been joined by pills that can be picked up legally at the corner pharmacy with a prescription and perhaps obtained illegally by others.
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell said prescription drugs have passed marijuana in popularity among teenagers. There were 373 incidents of illegal drug possession in county schools in 2009, he said.
Pickell also said the abuse rate of prescription drugs in Genesee County (6.5 percent) is higher than the national average (4.9 percent).
It’s a scenario Davison resident Lori Tallman knows all to well.
Tallman, the featured speaker of the presentation, was “rocked to the core” when her son, then a freshman at Davison High School, was expelled and faced criminal charges after buying eight Xanax pills, ingesting three and then giving some to another student, all on school grounds.
“Don’t think it can’t happen to you,” Tallman said. “My son was smart, mature and responsible. He made one bad choice, and it had very serious consequences.”
Genesee County Special Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Potbury said illegal possession of many simple household prescriptions could hold a two-year prison sentence. He said possession with intent to deliver could be a four- to seven-year felony. In many instances, for example, if the crime occurs at or near a school, punishments can be doubled.
“It’s a growing concern,” Potbury said. “It hasn’t received the attention of other drugs like crack or heroin, but it’s a threat to the health and welfare of students.”
Tallman advised parents to go home and lock up their medicine cabinets.
“Kids look at these drugs like they are not illegal,” she said. “Lock them up, and tell your friends the same.”
Lake Fenton Superintendent Wayne Wright said students are prohibited from bringing prescription drugs or even over-the-counter medication to school without permission.
The presentation convinced Lake Fenton parent Michelle Keen to lock up her family’s medicines.
“I am going to keep them far way,” she said. “Just because my son wouldn’t grab them doesn’t mean one of his friends won’t.”
Matta planned to put away prescription drugs as well.
“I’m going to lock them up right away,” she said.
However, Pickell said the problem doesn't stem just from home.
“The problem is more widespread now,” he said. “They aren’t just coming out of Grandma’s medicine cabinet.”
For example, he said, people might steal prescription pads and stock up on drugs, and unscrupulous doctors may write unnecessary prescriptions. However, Pickell said, the majority of the drugs in schools do come from home.
Tallman said she wishes her experience on no one.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think he could have been dead,” she said. “Please, please lock up your drugs.”
The Fenton Area Public Schools Board of Education also is looking into prescription drug-abuse prevention. The group voted unanimously Monday night to start a task force to help stop the spread of prescription drug usage.
The board will work directly with the Genesee County prosecutor’s office. The office received a state grant to help implement the program.
Superintendent Timothy Jalkanen presented the case.
“Prescription abuse is going on, and as the national survey shows, it’s in Genesee county as well,” Jalkanen said. “We want to combat it as strong as we can, be real supportive of the prosecutor’s office initiative in any way that we can. It’s the right thing to do.”
A total of 13.4 million teens told The Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey in 2009 that prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs.
Jalkanen said that awareness is the key.
“The kids in our schools realize it’s everywhere,” he said. “If you’re not aware of it as parents, students will use them. If you’re not using them, flush them away or take them to the pharmacy. Keep them out of reach of these kids.”