The dangers of prescription drug misuse took center stage in Nick Olson's health classroom at Northwestern Middle School on Friday, Dec. 14. The Generation Rx presentation was given by pharmacy student Cassie Johnson, Sgt. Cory Knutson with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and Jeff Bobula, a sales manager with Cardinal Health.
"I think we're hitting it from all angles," Bobula said.
They offered personal stories, examples and eye-opening statistics: 1 out of 4 teenagers has admitted to misusing or abusing a prescription drug at some point in their lifetime; every 15 minutes, somebody dies of an unintentional overdose.
"There's never been a more important time for you all to hear this message that prescription drugs, taken without a prescription, can have deadly consequences," Bobula told the students.
Johnson, a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, quizzed the students which of three scenarios were drug misuse - taking too much of a medication prescribed to you; taking a medication for something it's not meant to treat; sharing prescription medication with a friend. The answer was all three.
Sharing medication, even if you don't charge money for it, is a felony criminal offense. If convicted, the person who shared their medication could lose their ability to vote and own a firearm. That would mean no hunting for the rest of their life.
Students were engaged and asked questions. When Johnson asked if they'd heard of Ambien, Vicodin, Oxycontin or the opioid crisis, most of the students raised their hands.
"It's amazing what they see on TV and what they are aware of," Olson said.
The students were told that only two countries in the world allow prescription drug companies to publicly advertise their drugs, the United States of America and New Zealand.
Once they pass their expiration date, students learned, prescription drugs can lose potency and become toxic. They can also encourage home break-ins from people seeking drugs. Johnson and Bobula stressed that prescription drugs should be properly disposed of. Unused or old medications can be put in a drop box in the joint law enforcement office of the Government Center in Superior or at a local take-back event.
The majority of teens, 85 percent, do not abuse drugs, Johnson said. She offered the classes ideas for how to turn down an offer of drugs and encouraged them to tell a trusted adult if they knew of drug misuse.
Bobula told the classes about a college student who offered some of his prescription drugs to a classmate to help them study for final exams. The person he shared it with had an underlying heart condition that no one was aware of. That classmate was found dead the next day, and the student who provided the drug was sent to jail.
Olson said the presentation highlighted what his health students are already learning.
"It's good to have an outside voice come in and kind of reinforce what we're talking about, to kind of open their eyes a little more on the consequence side," he said.
The health teacher told a story of his own about a high school teammate who began taking prescription medications for an injury and got hooked. He was kicked off the team, lost scholarship opportunities and didn't even graduate high school.
"It's a quick downward spiral," Olson said.
Bobula has given these GenerationRx presentations for years.
"I've personally presented from Medford, Wisconsin all the way over to Ontonagon, Michigan," he said, for audiences as young as elementary students.
He offered to give the presentation to students at NMS. Parents, teachers and administrators discussed the option and invited the group in as a proactive way to address the subject.
"This is an epidemic, especially in our county, so we want to start early," school counselor Erika Kaufman said. "I think sometimes we're scared if we talk about things then kids will try them or do them because we're talking about it and I don't believe that to be true. I think we see that with many things, with suicide, this kind of topic, talking about it and bringing it out into the open helps kids to feel like they can bring it up instead of hiding it."
Bobula and Johnson are spreading the word out about Generation Rx, which was developed by the Cardinal Health Foundation and the Ohio State School of Pharmacy. It provides free resources, including PowerPoint presentations and videos for anyone to use, at generationrx.org.