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Montgomery County officials examine drug prevention for teens as use soars

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Photo - Prescription drugs (Thinkstock photo)
Prescription drugs (Thinkstock photo)
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

Drug and alcohol abuse is soaring among Montgomery County teens, and county officials are looking for ways to stop it.

Emergency calls for oxycodone overdoses doubled in Maryland between 2007 and 2011, state data show, and the number of people seeking treatment for prescription drugs rose from 3,400 in 2007 to more than 7,000 in 2010.

Multiple deaths in Damascus and the surrounding area were also drug-related, police said.

About 15 percent of students said they had used prescription drugs without a doctor's permission at least once in the state's most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Health and public school officials are scheduled to meet with the County Council's Human and Health Services Committee on Thursday morning to discuss whether drug use has dropped in the last several months after the county established some preventive measures.

Montgomery County Police Commander Luther Reynolds told the committee in April that prescription drug use and heroin were a growing concern in the Damascus area. He reported that police had carried out 26 undercover drug buys in a single Damascus neighborhood since August 2011.

"It's not unique to any one community," Reynolds said Wednesday. "All of our communities have some level of drugs. Enforcement is part of the solution -- but that's not the only answer."

Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, said the growing number of deaths from drugs in the county -- particularly in Damascus -- has raised community concern.

Damascus High School has hosted forums in which speakers warn of the dangers of drug use and parents have formed advocacy groups, including the Heroin Action Coalition, advocating more treatment.

Reynolds said targeting students when they are young will help curb young people who might be susceptible, and making parents more aware of prevention and drug use signs can help them intervene sooner.

"Kids for the most part know what's going on, but parents don't," he said.

Though Montgomery County has an increasing problem, state data shows surrounding counties show signs of more severe problems, particularly on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland.

Nationally, the number of emergency room visits for prescription drug abuse of opiates such as oxycodone doubled from 2004 to 2009, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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