Newschannel 6 Exclusive: Prescription Overdose

Crack, heroin,meth....these are the names that come to mind when you think about drug abuse and addiction. But, there's a growing drug problem you may not be aware of. And the danger is lurking closer than you think.

Prescription drugs represent the fastest growing drug abuse and addiction problem today. It is second only to marijuana among all recreational drug use in the United States. And the problem is hitting Texoma just as hard.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five people have used prescription drugs recreationally. Officer Kris Henning works with the Wichita Falls Police Department's D.A.R.E. unit. She says this problem is more common here than people realize.

"It's everywhere, you know," said Henning. "We can walk in to probably anyone's medicine cabinet or kitchen cabinet, or wherever you keep your meds, and see unattended vials of all sorts of medications."

Availability of prescription drugs is one of the key problems. A lack of respect for just how dangerous these drugs are is another.

A 2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report lists drug overdose as the second leading cause of accidental death in the US, behind only car accidents. More than half of those were from opioids like Oxycontin and Methadone. Many people who become addicted to these drugs actually start off with a legitimate prescription.

Marcy Thomas is the program administrator for substance abuse services at the Helen Farabee Center in Wichita Falls. She said this is actually quite common.

"It's not long before they realize that if I don't take this medication," she said, "I have very high anxiety or I may even have some physical withdrawal symptoms."

Other commonly abused drugs include sleep-aids, anti anxiety medications and ADHD drugs like Ritalin. These are the drugs most often used by teens. Thomas see the effects of their use first-hand.

"They strictly live in the moment," she said.  "And they give little thought to what could be the result of me doing something."

This is a big problem for Texomans of all ages. But, it is growing fastest among kids. From 2004 to 2009 the number of prescription drug offenses referred to the Wichita County Juvenile Probation Department more than doubled. Prescription drug offenses represent a majority of all felony cases they see. And kids here are beginning to take these drugs at younger and younger ages. "Youngest I've actually seen is like second/third grade," said Henning, "where they're actually sharing it."

Even scarier is that kids commonly mix prescription drugs with alcohol or other drugs. "Many of my adolescents mix Zanax and alcohol and they call it eraser," said Thomas. "Because it's an almost instant blackout."

The effect this is having on families throughout Texoma is devastating. Henning and Thomas both agree: the best way to keep loved ones off prescription drugs is to educate yourself. Know the signs of abuse and addiction. Know what is in your home and how much you should have. Above all else, stay involved.