Prescription drug abuse a growing problem

May 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Prescription drug abuse is reaching epidemic proportions around the country. After marijuana, pain killers are now considered the most abused drug among young people.

As a young boy, Derek Philbert was a bright, happy child who loved dogs and could light up a room with his smile. As a young man he began writing and playing his own songs and he graduated magna cum laude from Sacramento State University. But during his senior year in college, those close to him noticed a change in Derek's personality.

"Like sleeping a lot and just...irritated more than he used to be," Derek's mother, Julia Philbert, said.

Derek was addicted to prescription medications. It was a problem that started with a single pill -- Vicodin and moved to a more powerful pain drug -- Oxycontin.

Kendall Rose and Derek grew up together as young children and then reunited and became a couple in college.

"He shared in a group there that the first time he took the drug it made him feel better than he'd ever felt," Rose said.

Douglas Bodin is a Lafayette intervention and addiction specialist.

"A lot of times when the kids do become more addicted or habituated to opiates, or say Oxycontin, the next progression is heroin because they find that heroin is actually cheaper," Bodin said.

In some cases, addicts buy Vicodin and Oxycontin from illegal drug dealers; others might find it in the family medicine cabinet and some get it from so-called "dirty doctors."

"The motivation for the doctors are they're getting a lot of money for essentially no work," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said.

O'Malley now has an investigative unit devoted exclusively to prescription drug abuse.

"Going after these doctors that are actually prescribing these combinations of drugs," O'Malley said. "Oftentimes committing insurance fraud by billing the insurance companies and then holding those doctors accountable."

One Pleasanton family told ABC7, their Oxycontin-addicted son got his drugs from a Fremont pain specialist. His case and others prompted the state medical board to open an investigation that could result in the loss of Dr. Surinder Sandhu's license. The state accusations include gross negligence and over-prescribing of dangerous pain medications to a series of patients. Sandhu did not respond to ABC7's requests for comment.

"The problem of the hyper-growth over the last 10 years in abusing narcotics is the availability," Bob Pack said.

In 2003, Pack's two young children Alana and Troy were killed by a driver who had taken 13 Vicodin and 6 muscle relaxers mixed with vodka before the accident. Since then, Pack has worked with the California legislature to create an online database for tracking patient prescriptions. But the funding is scarce and the political will almost non-existent, thanks to the powerful influence of some pharmaceutical companies.

"The problem rests clearly with the politicians," Pack said.

In the meantime, young people like Derek Philbert are becoming addicted to drugs like Oxycontin. After two years of in and outpatient treatment and long periods of hope and recovery, Derek died on Feb. 6 from an accidental overdose. He was 24.

"I want other parents and their children to know how these drugs totally pull them in and how dangerous they are, even if you get good treatment, it's really hard to beat it," Julia Philbert, said.

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