Heroin and prescription drug abuse is soaring in Montgomery County, particularly among school-age kids, according to county police.
"We're talking about pharm parties ... [where] they will actually have a bowl of pharmaceuticals and the kids will actually grab a handful of pills and take them not knowing what they are taking," Montgomery County Police Commander Luther Reynolds told County Council members.
The most popular party pills are painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, which many kids are swiping from their parents' medicine cabinets, he said.
"We see that there's a serious problem, and I believe it's starting with the pharmaceutical piece," Reynolds said.
Prescription drug abuse has soared 430 percent in the last decade, according to a report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In Maryland, the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to prescription drugs doubled from more than 3,400 in 2007 to more than 7,000 in 2010 -- and nearly half of those admitted were under 30 -- according to information from the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
With the rise in addicts seeking treatment, some parents say they are having a hard time getting their kids the medical help they need.
"The problem is we cannot get our kids into treatment," said Lisa Lowe, a parent and member of the Heroin Action Coalition of Montgomery County. "When we try to get our kids into treatment, we are told by parents who have been there before us that the only way into treatment is arrest."
Most painkillers are highly addictive and are often harder to obtain than opiates such as heroin, leading many prescription drug abusers to try heroin when their supply runs dry, police said.
"This is a real problem, and we are seeing kids that are caught up in this," said County Councilman Craig Rice, D-Upper County. "We need to get a handle on it and get out in front of it before it becomes a true epidemic."
Police carried out 26 undercover drug buys in a single neighborhood in Damascus over eight months, Reynolds said.
The drug busts have led to a drop in violent crime in Damascus, but "we cannot arrest our way out of this problem," Reynolds warned.
The problem can be contained only through a joint effort between police, school administrators, community watchdogs and parents, he said.
"I would strongly encourage parents to really get on the Internet, get on the Web and learn those signs [of drug abuse] to be on the lookout for, [including] lethargy, grades falling," said Mitch Cunningham, director of the Montgomery County Police Department's Special Investigations Division.
Police and anti-drug activists plan to hold a meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at Damascus High School to inform the community about the growing trend in drug abuse.