SAN DIEGO - Prescription drug abuse has climbed over the past five years in the San Diego region, according to a report released Monday by county officials.
Prescription drugs played a role in 268 deaths last year in San Diego County compared to 220 in 2008 -- a 22 percent increase, according to the 2013 Prescription Drug Abuse Report Card. A total of 1,221 people have died due to problems with prescription drugs during those five years.
Emergency room visits involving prescription drugs jumped 61 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to the report. The percentage of arrested juveniles who reported abusing medications climbed from 25 percent to 40 percent, the study found.
"It is very troubling to know so many young people and adults are abusing prescription drugs," Supervisor Dave Roberts said. "The problem is that prescription drugs are easy to get. They are readily available in home medicine cabinets."
Sheriff Bill Gore said the statistics on juvenile arrestees is "very troubling."
"The rise in children using it is because of its availability," said Nick Macchione, the director of the county's Health and Human Services Agency.
The fine line between use and misuse is having serious consequences. Sherrie Reubin's son Aaron was a star football player at Poway High School but what she did not know was he was struggling with a prescription drug problem.
"I didn't have drugs in my house. I didn't do drugs and I thought it would be enough to protect my child. Clearly, it wasn't enough," Reubin told 10News.
Aaron started using and abusing painkillers in 1998 but one night in 2005, he took one too many pills.
"He overdosed on oxycontin. He was in a coma for three and a half weeks. We were planning his funeral when he started to open his eyes," said Reubin.
Aaron was blind for the first nine months and had a feed tube for 10 months. He is quadriplegic and cannot speak. His family cares for him around the clock.
"I tell parents to educate themselves and then their children on what the realities are of abuse and what the substances are," said Reubin.
In 2008, local authorities formed a task force to try and address the growing problem. So far, they have collected nearly five and a half tons of prescription drugs and although they have gotten those off the street, the number of admissions into treatment has continued to increase.
"Two out of five calls we take are on prescription drugs," said Nancy Knott, who is with the Scripps Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers.
This year's report also highlighted the rise in cases of heroin abuse in San Diego.
"Heroin is the twin to the prescription medications, so if a person can no longer afford the $80 a pill price, they usually go many times on to heroin," said Knott.
Reubin told 10News her son Aaron started getting oxycontin by traveling to Mexico and buying it there. He later got it from friends who had prescriptions for it.
"Don't ever think that this can't happen to you or to your children," she said.
Other findings in the report card:
-- students who reported misusing prescription drugs climbed from 17 percent in 2007 to 19.6 percent last year;
-- the number of adults who checked into treatment centers for medication abuse went up from 3.9 percent to 4.7 percent in five years;
-- the number of arrested adults who reported misusing prescription drugs increased from 36 percent to 38 percent;
-- prosecutors filed 117 prescription fraud cases last year, five more than 2008;
-- 1,311 other cases involving prescription drugs were filed last year, an 84 percent increase;
-- the number of pharmacies robbed or burglarized dropped from nine in 2008 to eight in 2012; and
-- 26,609 pounds of prescription medications were dropped off at disposal sites last year, compared to 10,846 pounds in 2010 when the collection program began.
County officials said people with concerns about prescription drug abuse can call the Prescription Drug Hotline at (877) 662-6384.