Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is It Happening In Your House?

Harrison Neal was a 17-year-old boy living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I met with his father, Gary, and sister, Jordan, this week and listened to their description of Harrison - “everyone’s friend”, “fun”, “a great kid”, “a great student with a 3.5 GPA” and someone that “everyone loved”. What his parents and sister didn’t know about Harrison was that he was taking drugs. He wasn’t smoking pot, shooting heroin or snorting cocaine. There were no obvious signs of drug use. Harrison was a smart kid and had been educated since he was a little boy on the dangers of getting involved with illegal drugs. At 17 years old, Harrison was getting high from prescription drugs. Drugs that were prescribed to someone else. He didn’t know the dangers of these drugs or how they would interact with other medications he was taking. Like so many teens, Harrison didn’t know that prescription drugs could kill him. The day before Thanksgiving 2006, Harrison’s mother found him dead in his room from a lethal combination of an over the counter cold medication and someone else’s prescription painkiller.

Gary Neal does not want his son’s death to be in vain. He and his daughter are now vocal advocates against prescription drug abuse, using their experience to educate other parents about existence of this major problem. Meeting with them and seeing how personal this experience is compels me to put this information out to you today. Sitting across the table from them, learning about Harrison and hearing what they went through was extremely difficult, even for someone who has absolutely no connection to their family. But they are out there telling their story, repeating the events of the worst day of their lives, over and over again, hoping that other families will not have to go endure the same nightmare.

As you read this, many of you are thinking that although this may be something that happens in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it is not something that happens where you live. Not in our backyards. Not in our schools. Not to our kids. And certainly not in our houses. If those are your thoughts, you are, unfortunately, very wrong. The drugs that teens are playing around with are extremely serious: painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderal and tranquilizers such as Xanax. Statistics show that 1 in 5 American teens are abusing prescription drugs. That’s 20% of teenagers ages 13 – 18 are ingesting medication prescribed by a doctor to someone other than themselves. More than 50% of these teens obtained the prescription medications from their own home, a parent, a relative or a friend. They are taking them from their parents’ medicine cabinets and getting them from friends who are taking them from their parents’ medicine cabinets. They are buying them at school. And they are attending “pharm parties”, get-togethers where prescription drugs are exchanged and randomly ingested, in order to become intoxicated. The Internet also opens up many new doors for teens. Online, they are able to access information about various drugs and the side effects, and even gain access to “recipes”, learning what prescription medications to mix together to achieve different levels of intoxication.

Parents, are you scared yet? You should be. You should be scared enough to want to educate yourself on this crazy topic. Abbott, a major player in the development and manufacturing of drugs for conditions such as bipolar disorder, pain and epilepsy, to name a few, has joined forces with the Partnership for a Drug Free America to take action against this addiction in our children. As parents, we all need to be aware and educate ourselves on the dangers of our children abusing prescription medication. Abbot and the Partnership have launched a website called Not in My House ( which provides parents with information on topics such as teen drug culture and lingo, talking with our kids about the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse and how the teen brain is different from the adult brain, making teens more vulnerable to addiction.

Not In My House talks about three simple steps parents can take to help secure our homes.

  • Monitor you prescription drugs. Know what medications you have in your house and count the number of pills in your bottles. Check regularly for missing pills.

  • Keep your prescription drugs in a secure place where they are not easily accessible.

  • Leftover or expired medication should be disposed of properly. Place pills them in a non-see-through container and mix in something unpleasant such as old coffee grounds or cat litter. Seal the container and put it in the trash.
Teens are abusing prescription medications in part because they don’t know the dangers. They have been educated from a young age by the “Just Say NO!” campaign and have learned the dangers of illegal drugs such as crack, heroin and cocaine. They also feel invincible. They need to be educated on the fact that taking prescription medication prescribed to someone else can be deadly. Start talking to your kids about these dangers early, around 10 or 11 years old. Help them understand that prescription medication exists to help people who seek out a doctor. Taking prescription medications that belong to someone else can be deadly. Just ask Gary and Jordan Neal.


  1. Amy, I wanted to stop by and say what a wonderful post. This really was such an eye opening experience for me.

  2. Hi Amy... thank you so much for attending this event and sharing such an important topic. You definitely told Harrison's story well. It's a spine-tingling subject... but yet so important. Thank you for sharing again. And it was GREAT to finally meet you :)


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