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A bag of medications slated to be destroyed is emptied at the Missoula County evidence locker.

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

A new campaign to tackle the issue of prescription drug abuse among Montana teenagers is set to kick off Friday at the University of Montana’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy.

The Medicine Abuse Project is a new program under the Montana Meth Project, but the Meth Project won’t ease up its anti-methamphetamine efforts, executive director Amy Rue said.

“We just thought it was time to add this to the conversation,” she said.

By applying successful strategies used by the Meth Project to connect with teens and their families, leaders of the new effort hope to raise awareness, start conversations and provoke action to stem prescription drug abuse among teens, Rue said.

Montana doesn’t have large urban areas, but that doesn’t mean the state has escaped the trend of prescription drug abuse. Statistics show that teens actually are more likely to abuse prescription medications in rural areas, Rue said.

Nationwide, one-third of teens think it’s all right to use prescription drugs that were prescribed to someone else. Forty-three percent of those teens say getting prescription drugs is easier than getting illegal drugs, while four in 10 teens got prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets.

Friday’s one-hour event highlighting the issue begins with a showing of “Parents 360 RX” at 1 p.m. in Room 169 of the Skaggs Building at UM. The short documentary shows the impact of prescription drug abuse on real families.

David Forbes, dean of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, Montana first lady Lisa Bullock, Missoula Police Detective Dean Chrestenson and Tony King of the Montana Pharmacy Association will weigh in on the issue during a panel discussion slated to follow the film.

The movie and panel discussion are just the beginning of what Rue said will be a statewide conversation to change the attitude surrounding prescription drug abuse.

Currently, teens tend to think that taking easily obtainable prescription drugs isn’t necessarily illegal, especially if they’re using the medications to feel better from an actual ailment, Rue said. “So they don’t really think about the consequences of an illegal substance.”

Whether people realize it or not, abuse of prescription drugs can have long-lasting impacts, Rue said.

“Teens that begin using at an early age are more likely to struggle with substance abuse disorders,” she said.

“I’m hoping that, much as we have in conversations about meth, teens will begin to see this behavior as problematic as well,” she added.

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Already, the impacts of prescription drug abuse have been seen in Missoula, said Chrestenson, who focuses on prescription drug diversion cases.

For example, several middle school-aged children had to be hospitalized after taking prescription drugs at a party, Chrestenson said.

Another case involved two teenagers who took prescription drugs and then passed out in an alleyway. One stopped breathing before they were found, he said.

To prevent abuse and theft, people should secure prescription medications and monitor their legitimate use by children, he said, suggesting a lock box for safe storage.

When prescriptions are no longer needed, the pills should be safely disposed of during a National Drug Take-Back event, by placing them in coffee grounds or cat litter, or by dropping them in the secure box at the Missoula Police Department.

Chrestenson said the Medicine Abuse Project will bring much-needed attention and education on the issue of prescription drug abuse to Montana families.

After Friday’s event, “I want them to understand the dangers associated with these medications when they’re not used properly as prescribed,” he said, adding that those dangers include death.

To take the pledge to safely store prescription medications and to talk with family members about the dangers of abuse or to learn more about the Medicine Abuse Project, visit montanameth.org/Pledge.

People should RSVP for Friday’s event by emailing info@montanameth.org.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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