Matthew Ganem was just 15 years old when he started taking Percocets to dull the pain of a sports injury. By the age of 16, he was taking OxyContin with friends. It was the beginning of a painkiller addiction that quickly spiraled out of control, escalating into a heroine addiction before Ganem put itself into detox, and then rehab.
In a 2011 survey by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 17-percent of Massachusetts high school students said they had taken a prescription medication for a non-medical reason. Five-percent of Massachusetts middle school students admitted to doing the same. Painkiller abuse among teens continues to be a problem in our communities. And technology may be making the problem worse.
The Digital Citizens Alliance has been studying the issue of illicit online pharmacies for months, using investigators to prove how easy it is for anyone of any age to buy narcotics online without a prescription. In January, a 15-year-old working for the alliance was able to place phone orders with two online pharmacies for powerful painkillers, even after providing his age. One month later, an adult working for the organization was able to place online orders for painkillers. In each instance, no prescription was required.
Garth Bruen is the principle investigator for Knujon.com, and has been collaborating with the Digital Citizens Alliance on this investigation. He says illicit online pharmacies are able to exist by burying themselves through multiple domains and websites, and using false information to register those websites. In one example, Garth found the registration record for one online pharmacy with a domain listed as China, and a physical address listed in France. Upon further investigation, that address was found to belong to an apartment, and the e-mail address was invalid.
Bruen says the biggest risk involved with ordering from illicit online pharmacies is that the customer never truly knows what he or she is receiving. Bruen says pills listed as being prescription medication could contain anything from highway paint to chalk. If the pills make a customer sick, it may be impossible to track down those responsible for dispensing the pills.
Experts recommend parents keep a close eye on their teens' Internet use, as well as their spending habits. Parents should be cautious if a teenager suddenly asks for their credit card, or requests money on a regular basis. For more information on the signs of painkiller addiction and where to find help, visit the website for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Mass. DPH: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/substance-abuse/stop-pill-abuse/
To read more of Matthew Ganem's poetry and his reflections on addiction, visit his website: www.mattganemthepoet.com