Snorting prescription pain pills is new high for teens

Drug cop says lawmakers should stiffen laws

DENVER - Teens across the Denver metro area are turning to prescription pain killers to get high, but they’re snorting and smoking the drug to reach the high more quickly.

"It's so easy to acquire at our age," said Alec Henry, a senior at Thornton High School. "There are so many kids getting wisdom teeth pulled; there are kids breaking bones and they don’t take the full prescription," Henry told the CALL7 Investigators.

He recalls paying $20 or $30 a pill, "It's not a cheap habit," he said.

Henry said he no longer abuses painkillers. He says he is now helping other teens and alerting parents about the problems. "Kids just don't take Oxy, they literally do it in the fastest form, which is snorting it."

Many times he said he would snort the drug while at school, in front of teachers, "They're so naive to what is going on."

Oxycodone, a prescription opiate, is a schedule II drug.  According the Drug Enforcement Agency, Oxy is a drug with high potential of abuse and ranks in the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine.

The pain killer is usually prescribed to cancer patients and according to doctors should only be prescribed for short periods of time because of the potential for addiction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a study in 2009, showing prescription drug abuse is on the rise, with 20 percent of teens claiming they’ve taken a prescription drug without a doctor’s script.

"It's almost like a dream," said Christie Lambrecht, whose son became addicted to the popular pain killer Oxy.

"(You're) raising your kids (and) you don’t ever imagine them growing up to be a drug addict," she told CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta.

Her son, who we aren’t naming, grew up playing basketball and began running a successful business, Lambrecht said, but once he tried Oxy, he was hooked.

"He told me he was smoking approximately 30 pills a day," Lambrecht recalls. She tried to put together an intervention after finding bottles of pills at her son’s house, but eventually had to call police.

Lambrecht said her son didn’t buy the drug off the street, but went through a doctor to get the medication. "I just kept looking at them (pill bottles) and they all had the same doctor, Dr. Daniel Drennan, and I was reading the quantity and it was like 380 oxycodone."

She blames Dr. Daniel Drennan for prescribing the large amount of Oxy to her son. "He's never had an MRI, he’s never had a CAT scan and never had any of those things from a doctor," she said. 

The CALL7 Investigators found no sanctions against Drennan’s license in Colorado or in Utah and California, where he practiced previously.

Drennan, a pain specialist, said a lot of patients come into his office already being prescribed high doses of opiates by general practitioners who aren’t trained to prescribe these medications.

"We find a lot of patients on very high doses of medications are actually addicted and not there for pain management," said Drennan.

Because of the high number of addicts, he began doing drug screening on patients, "when we get the urine screen we can tell if they’re taking the medications appropriately. If they’re not, we don’t prescribe opiates."

He knows his business is a risky one and realizes some patients will come to him and lie to get a prescription to the medication they’re addicted to, "Once they don’t tell me the truth, I can’t work with them anymore."

Drennan said that he wants to help patients who are addicted, to detox them, because if he doesn't they will just find another doctor to take advantage of.

Using the Prescription Drug Monitoring Database or PDMT, Drennan said he’s able to track the drugs his patients are being prescribed.

According to the program director for the Colorado Pharmacy Board, Wendy Anderson, anyone who can prescribe a controlled substance can access the database -- which has been tracking prescriptions since 2007.

"It can be helpful for doctors if they have a drug seeker," said Anderson.

The database is updated every two weeks with information about who is prescribed a controlled substance, how much, when it was filled, by which pharmacy and which doctor, said Anderson. While it is an available tool, there are no laws requiring doctors or pharmacists to look at the database before prescribing or filling out a prescription.

"There has been a phenomenon across the country where certain physicians... most are reliable, but you do get some motivated by profit," said Sergeant Jim Gerhardt, with the North Metro Drug Task Force. 

"We have leads right now on physicians who are prescribing in a very suspicious manner but we're going to try our best to do something, even if we can’t find a way to charge them and hold them accountable," said Gerhardt.

He feels the laws in Colorado are lax and wants to start a conversation with lawmakers to hold doctors more accountable.

"There are certain states that have passed good laws, so they have a mechanism for a physician who is over-prescribing. Colorado is not there yet," said Gerhardt.