The situation was terrifying for Mark, a Lake Villa resident who became addicted to pain medication after being prescribed hydrocodone for his chronic shoulder pain. He asked not to be identified due to the possible repercussions.
When his son was prescribed a mix of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, Mark worried that the teen could also become addicted. He worried about whether he’d be strong enough to handle the pills being in the house. He wondered why his son’s doctor was so quick to prescribe such a powerful and potentially addictive drug.
The doctor Mark turned to to get his addiction under control was Dr. Adam Rubinstein, a Libertyville-based physician board certified in addiction and internal medicine, who estimates that 80 percent of prescription drug addicts were first prescribed the medicine.
So-called pill or pharming parties where teenagers share exchanged and randomly ingested prescription pills are “extremely rare,” Rubinstein said. The most common reason teenagers start using prescription pills is that they’re prescribed them by a doctor for a sports injury.
“The brain likes it,” he said. “They feel soothed by it. Their brain feels soothed. Imagine your entire life you have this chronic sunburn, but you don’t realize you don’t have this sunburn. And then somebody gives you a cream.”
The prescription pills take away the uneasiness and anxiety they feel, Rubinstein said.
But prescription drug abuse is also a leading indicator for becoming a heroin user, said Bill Gentes, coordinator for the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force.
An estimated 11 percent of high school seniors in Lake County reported that within the prior year they had used prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them, according to the Illinois Youth Survey, a biennial study that tracks the attitudes of sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders toward drugs and alcohol — and their use of the substances.
In Illinois, 12.6 percent of seniors reported abusing prescription drugs, according to the study. Only alcohol, cigarette and marijuana were used more frequently by seniors.
Schools are currently preparing for this year’s survey, and county officials are set to get the results in the fall, Gentes said.