Bad Medicine

MAYVILLE – The issue of a dramatic increase in the number of teenagers and young adults abusing prescription painkillers took center stage at the most recent meeting of the Chautauqua County School Boards Association.

On Thursday, several Chautauqua County school superintendents and board members gathered at Mayville’s Chautauqua Suites to hear a presentation about the dangers of prescription drug use among area youth both inside and outside of the school system.

The presentation, called “Painkillers Kill More Than Pain,” featured two speakers: Rob Kubiak, marketing manager of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York, and John Craig, vice-president of education and outreach with WNED and WBFO. As representatives of their respective organizations, which are sponsorship partners, Kubiak and Craig outlined several statistics of prescription drug abuse in Western New York, as well as initiatives taken by their organizations to raise awareness.

“At one point, (the issue) was alcohol or marijuana,” Kubiak said. “But when I was talking to Gretchen Fierle, (vice-president and chief communication officer of BCBS of WNY), she said if you go to a party and have to choose, you’re safer with marijuana or alcohol. It’s sad because it’s gotten to that point. And what kids are doing is they’re saying to their friends, ‘Take this. It’s got the same effect, and your parents can’t smell it.’ It’s a silent killer.”

Kubiak illustrated the scope of the problem by providing global statistics.

“This is an important topic because we all know someone who has been affected by prescription painkillers,” Kubiak said after an overwhelming number of attendants indicated they had, or knew someone who had, been prescribed painkillers previously. “A narcotic painkiller overdose kills more than 45 people every day. In the entire world, the United States consumes 95 percent of prescription painkillers. That’s important to know because it’s happening in every community and every neighborhood.”

Craig provided additional statistics, including: 2,500 Upstate New York young adults addicted to pain medication; 100 deaths per day due to prescription medication misuse or recreational use, with the aforementioned 45 deaths per day being due to painkiller addictions; a 400 percent increase since 1995 in the number of pain prescriptions issued; 475,000 emergency room visits in 2009 due to painkiller addiction issues; 20 percent of teens taking prescription or addictive medications not prescribed to them; and 40 percent of these users believing painkillers are safer to take than street drugs.

In order to raise awareness about the gravity of the situation, BCBS of WNY and WNED-TV have taken several initiatives. Kubiak said the organizations have thus far succeeded in securing $1.1 million in donated media and resources to address the issue, as well as $300,000 in out-of-pocket funding.The most substantial initiative taken was the filming of a 30-minute documentary, of which a 6-minute segment was aired at the CCSBA meeting.

The documentary focuses on the stories of several young adults and their struggles with addictive prescription drugs. The documentary is currently scheduled to air in simulcast at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 22 on WGRZ-Channel 2, WKBW-Channel 7 and WNED-TV.

Kubiak and Craig also asked for the support of area school districts in raising awareness of the problem, and the effects associated with it.

“We need your commitment to air the documentary,” Kubiak said. “We want it to be seen by all middle and high school students. We just really want you to make that pledge to show it, advertise it and make the parents watch it. And that’s half the battle. It’s not just for the kids, it’s for the parents, too. The issue is with the kids, but if the parents aren’t aware, they need to know what to do. And, more importantly, talk to your friends, colleagues and families about it.”

The CCSBA is a consortium of all 18 Chautauqua County school districts, as well as Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES. To learn more, go to its new website at www.ccsba.org.

The next CCSBA general membership dinner meeting will be held Oct. 17 at Moonbrook Country Club. Beginning at 6 p.m., the meeting will look at the NYS Campaign for Fiscal Equity and will feature special guest Michael Rebell.