Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens took his fight against prescription drug abuse on the road Wednesday to Douglasville, warning students at New Manchester High School about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
He brought along a 30-second video created by last year’s winner from Cobb County titled, “Drugs… Are they really worth it?” and encouraged students to make and submit their own video with the theme “We’re Not Gonna Take It” for a contest for Georgia high school students to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse.
Georgia high school students are being challenged to create a 30-second video explaining why they have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle and reject prescription drug abuse. The contest runs from Sept. 14 to Oct. 30, 2015. Prizes will be awarded to the winner, runner-up and people’s choice winner.
“We invited our first period health classes, some first period science classes and our broadcast video class to the assembly,” said New Manchester High School Principal Connie Craft. “Our broadcast video group will be participating in the contest again this year, so we thought it would be good for them to hear the message and see the winner from last year.
Students can enter the contest at www.law.ga.gov/videocontest.
In his second term as the state’s attorney general, Olens said that this is the second year in which he has led the charge against prescription drug abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that 259 million prescriptions for pain medications were written in 2012. That’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.
Inevitably, many of these powerful pills end up in the wrong hands.
The attorney general told the students about a Georgia law passed in 2014 called the 911 Medical Amnesty Law, which provides immunity to drug overdose bystanders who have failed to summon medical assistance — calling 911 — for fear that doing so would put them at risk for prosecution.
The Medical Amnesty Law addresses this problem by providing immunity from arrest, charge and prosecution for possession of controlled substances for a person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for himself or the individual experiencing the overdose. While the law provides immunity for possession charges, it provides no protection to a person who is selling the drugs, the attorney general explained.
“More and more folks are abusing legal prescriptions,” said Olens. “We lose over 700 lives each year because of prescription drug abuse.”
He said, “We hear more and more about drugs that are prescribed by doctors each year. Parties no longer just serve beer and wine. Now they offer a colorful assortment of pills from the medicine cabinet. When I was growing up, no one talked about the medicine cabinet — they talked about the liquor cabinet.”
“I am here to tell you that you get addicted to drugs that are by prescription.”
The attorney general asked the students if they knew about actor Heath Ledger, whose last role was that of ‘The Joker’ in the movie, ‘The Dark Knight.” Olens told the students that Ledger died from an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs.
“He died because he got addicted to prescription pain medication,” said Olens.
Olens than went into graphic detail about what happens when someone overdoses.
“If you are at a party and you think someone’s had too much to drink or have taken pills,” said Olens, “and they’re laying down on the floor, their lungs are filling up with fluid and they’re dying. You should call 911 and save your friend’s life.”
Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner then spoke to the students, telling them that prescription drugs are a problem and it is a criminal act.
“These are everyday consequences that alter your life, and it worries us that people are dying,” said Fortner. “These have impact on people that you do not know. It is a threat to our teenagers.”
The district attorney went on to share his experiences as a youth growing up with his mother and grandmother in Cabbagetown, a community in Atlanta, surrounded by the actions of his uncles “who were in and out of jail for prescriptions of pain medication.”
According to Fortner, his uncles would sell them and use the money for other drugs.
“They’re all dead,” he said. “I saw it everyday. It was prescription drugs. People’s lives are ruined because of prescription drugs.”
Fortner told the students, “It is a real danger that we all face. I’m not just trying to scare you, but make you realize the dangers of it.”
The New Manchester students then met Sissy Weldon, a recovering addict who is now and advocate from the Georgia Council on Drug Abuse.
To look her, you would never imagine that the attractive, articulate, intelligent young woman was a recovering drug addict — and it all began with prescription drugs.
The students were mesmerized as the young woman began to tell her story of how after being diagnosed at age 13 with depression and anxiety, she was prescribed three different medications by a doctor.
This led to her addiction and she did not feel comfortable enough to talk to someone about it, she said.
Weldon grew up in a household of five people and told the students that “addiction runs in my family.”
She watched her father abuse alcohol growing up and lost him when she was 18. Her two brothers were in and out of jail because of drugs. Today, one is in recovery and one is still abusing drugs, Weldon said.
She said she had lost six friends to death from prescription drug abuse since she has been in recovery. That was four years ago.
Often there are stereotypes associated with what a drug addict is supposed to look like. Weldon, however, did not fit the stereotype.
“I was class president for three years,” she said, “and a cheerleader until I got into trouble drinking and smoking weed and went into blackout. I got into an altercation with a friend but didn’t remember any of it.”
She said that she graduated from high school in the top 20 percent of her class of 600. After high school, she had the opportunity to go to the University of Georgia and immediately got very involved.
“I was always a ‘human doing’ and not a ‘human being’,” Weldon said.
While at UGA, she got introduced to an opiate — oxycotin — a prescribed painkiller.
“I thought that this was what most people felt like,” she described of the drug’s affect on her.
She had received an inheritance following the death of her father.
Weldon said, “When I got addicted to opiates, I spent my $10,000 inheritance on drugs. I dropped out of school before my last semester. I lost my family and friends. I was addicted and turned to heroin, which is cheaper and it worked very quickly.”
During that time, she said that she “wanted to stop so badly but I could not stop.”
This story does have a happy ending.
In 2011, Weldon checked into a treatment center in Atlanta and since then, she graduated from college.
“I have been sober since 2011,” she said. “I get to go to high schools across the state. I get to meet the attorney general. Most important to me are my relationships. I am someone people want to be around. I am a good friend, in real relationships where I want the best for them. I have been able to rebuild my relationship with my mother.”
According to Weldon, there are 23 million Americans in recovery.
“You can very easily become addicted to drugs and alcohol,” she warned. “I am passionate about sharing that story with people.”