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Prescription drugs, synthetic drugs emerge as big problems for Minnesota youth

Carol Falkowski tells teachers attending a Minnesota River Valley Education District session of workshops about the emerging problems with the abuse of prescription narcotics and synthetic drugs, often marketed as bath salts and research chemicals. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

LAC QUI PARLE VALLEY — More than 470 instructors gathered Monday at the Lac qui Parle Valley High School to learn the latest strategies and digital technologies to employ in their classrooms.

The K-12 teachers with the Minnesota River Valley District schools also learned about the latest drugs available to students on the streets outside of their classrooms.

Some of these drugs are also being made available to them via the Internet.

Two of the emerging trends in drug abuse today are so-called bath salts and research chemicals often marketed online, despite federal and state laws aimed at stopping them.

“Online sales, it’s the first time we’ve ever had direct to the consumer marketing of substances like this,’’ said Carol Falkowski, of Drug Abuse Dialogues, LLC.

Bath salts are a mix of chemicals used to produce psychoactive effects, similar to ecstasy and cocaine. Many research chemicals contain synthetic versions of the active ingredient in marijuana.

Young people today, digital natives all, may not be as wary as those who remember when you didn’t buy stuff on the Internet, Falkowski noted. For young people today, “that’s just were you buy things, that’s just how you purchase things. So, it’s very different,’’ she said.

It’s also a different world today in terms of how accepted and pervasive the use of prescription drugs has become.

Nationwide, alcohol and marijuana remain the first two causes for people entering treatment. In Minnesota, abuse of pain relief narcotics is now the second-leading cause.

“We live in a world that is awash in pills,’’ Falkowski said. The number of legitimate prescriptions issued in 2011 for pain relief in the U.S. totaled 210 million.

 “And they have the false impression that somehow pills are more predictable, they’re more safe than street drugs, and that is absolutely part of this mix,’’ Falkowski said. “No matter how you cut or slice it, we have in this country, we have in this state, an enormous increase in the abuse of prescription pain killers and heroin, the likes of which we’ve never seen in Minnesota.’’

Heroin abuse is far more prevalent in the metropolitan area, where high quality heroin is available for as little as 25 cents per milligram, compared to $1 per milligram for a prescription drug like Vicadin.  

Falkowski has spent 30 years researching drug abuse and is part of a committee with the National Institute on Drug Abuse charged with reporting on trends. She is amazed at how rapidly the drug abuse scene changes.

She advocates for a wide-range of tactics to address it, but especially, urges parents to talk to their children. Youth translate a lack of discussion this way: “My parents must not think it’s a big deal. They don’t even talk to me about it,’’ she said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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