Prescription drug abuse increases in N.J.

    Officials say abuse of prescription pills by teenagers in New Jersey is increasing. And that’s leading to heroin addiction.

    Law enforcement officials who testified at a N.J. State Commission of Investigation hearing Wednesday say 60 percent of the young people who abuse prescription pain relievers start taking them before they’re 15 years old.

    James Scoppa, a detective sergeant in the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office, said some of the teens who abuse prescription drugs build up a tolerance and then begin using heroin.

    “You don’t care about anything other than getting your high and you need to get your fix so you don’t get sick,” said Scoppa. “So the kid may think ‘I would never do heroin.’ But when it comes to that point, they have to go to heroin because it’s that much cheaper.”

    Investigators say teens often begin the painkiller habit by taking medication they find in their parents’ medicine cabinets. They then get more drugs from friends or dealers.

    Rachel Denno, an agent with the commission, said teens may mistakenly believe the prescription pills are safe to take.

    “Many of them feel that the prescription pills are safer than the street drugs,” she said. “Because the pills were manufactured for legitimate medical purposes, they don’t associate the same stigma with them that they do with heroin and cocaine and your other street drugs.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.