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Carl Flower, left, spoke at a Lunch ‘N’ Learn program program Wednesday afternoon at the Bradshaw-Chambers County Library about the opioid epidemic and e-cigarettes. Above, Flowers talks to Curtis Guy, right, a retired Chambers County educator, after the program concluded. -- Wayne Clark

Lunch ‘N’ Learn talks about opioid epidemic

VALLEY — Opioid addiction is widely recognized as a serious problem in the U.S.

A major contributor to this is the misuse of prescription medication, according to health professionals.

To help people become familiar with the signs of possible addiction within their family circle, Bradshaw-Chambers County Library on Wednesday hosted a Lunch ‘N’ Learn program on the topic.

James Flowers, a prevention specialist with East Alabama Mental Health Services, Opelika, spoke to a group gathered inside the library’s Lanier Room.

Flowers said that most households had prescription drugs in their home. These are normal medications prescribed by a doctor to treat diagnosed conditions. They are to be used by the person whose name is on the bottle.

“Prescription medicines are safe when used correctly under a doctor’s supervision,” Flowers said, “but there’s a big problem when they are used by persons they weren’t intended for. If they are mixed with any amount of alcohol or illicit drugs, serious health conditions can result.”

Research shows that one out of four teenagers knows a friend who abuses medicines to get high.

Every day, nearly 3,000 teens try to abuse prescription medicines to get high for the first time, according to Flowers.

“Anyone who takes medicine inappropriately is teeter-tottering on drug abuse,” he said. “When you take more than what’s prescribed or take medicine that’s prescribed for someone else, you are on dangerous ground.”

Flowers said there’s a need for grandparents to learn the lingo their grandchildren may be speaking.

“You need to watch what kids are talking about,” he said. “If you hear them talk about ‘zans,” “mollies’ and “rupies” you need to know what that means. You need to talk to them if they are getting any kind of drug to get high. If they tell you they need to go to the bathroom you’d better be sure your medicine cabinet is locked.”

Prescribed opioids can work on the body in the same way illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine do.

“The receptors are the same,” Flowers said. “We need to stop putting drugs into hierarchies and believing that some are worse than others. They can all be harmful. It’s not good to say that little Johnny only smokes a little weed ever now and then. Marijuana leads to other drugs. It’s something you need to put a stop to now.”

Flowers recommends watching for the signs of prescription drug abuse.

They include:

4Needing more pills to achieve the same effect, hyperactivity or extreme sleepiness;

4Mood/behavior changes, withdrawal from friends or family, physical withdrawal such as flu-like symptoms; and

4Stealing or forging prescriptions, getting multiple prescriptions from different doctors, a practice commonly called doctor-shopping.

In addition to keeping medicine cabinet locked, responsible adults with young children in the home are advised to keep a written inventory and keep track of their medications.

Flowers said it’s also good to know who children are keeping as friends and talk to their parents about medications and to dispose of older or unused medications.

Flowers said it’s common in schools today for young people to accept being high as a cool thing to do; some kids even pretend to be high when they are not.

“We need to put an end to this ‘being cool and relatable’” he said. “It starts with us saying that just a little bit of marijuana is OK. It’s not.”

Flowers has talked to lots of high school athletes and understands the pressures of their lives.

“The expectations people have of them to perform at a high level are very high,” he said. “They’ve been led to believe if they are injured and are not there and the team loses it’s their fault. These high expectations can drive them to take medications that can get them back on the field or on the court. It’s often said that ‘I don’t have the medication, but I know who does.’”

Flowers said that stimulants and depressants can be a problem.

“We definitely have to watch them and how they are used,” he said.“If someone has trouble sleeping, maybe they need to go to bed earlier. We need to know that when we are asleep our kids are, too. Someone needs to be watching them. Know your surroundings and what’s going on there.”

Stimulants have the same effect on people that cocaine does, Flowers said.

“It’s as serious as cocaine,” he said. “If someone you care about is using drugs and it kills them do you want to live with that? Now is the time to take the responsibility to stop it before it gets to that. Stop letting people tell you don’t know what you are talking about. Show them that you have facts about what happens to people who are addicted to drugs. If you help one person each and every day you are doing your job. Thank you. It’s a job you have to do, and don’t be discouraged. We will be glad to get you the information you need.”

In many cases, Flowers said, getting high is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

“You might believe that your problems will go away by doing that, but they won’t,” he said. “We’ve got to stop thinking if someone else’s kid gets caught it’s all their fault, but if little Johnny gets caught, it was someone else’s fault.”

Flowers said studies show that 16 million Americans are using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Every 19 minutes, one American dies because of a drug overdose or misusing opioids. 

“It doesn’t come from the street corner drug dealer who just got in town from up north,” Flowers said. “It comes from family and friends, people who could have prevented it but didn’t. Prescription drug abuse is not just a white thing or a black thing, a Hispanic thing or an Asian thing, it’s an American thing. We need to spread the word about this. It’s affecting us all.”

Flowers said the use of e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is a growing problem, especially among the young.

“We indoctrinated them that cigarettes and other tobacco products were nasty and could kill you,” he said. “That’s not bad, but e-cigarettes have filled this void. They think it’s safe, but it’s not. People have died from it.”

Flowers tells grandparents to carefully check what their grandchildren have charging in the wall or on their computer when they visit them. It might not be their phone and could be an e-cigarette or e-pen.

Flowers said that he and other specialists with East Alabama Mental Health speak to civic, church and school groups when called on.

“We are willing to speak anytime, anywhere,” he said. “We have a local office in the Alsobrook Center next to Valley Haven School. If you need a referral of need a prevention specialist to speak you can reach us at (334) 742-2112.”