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Mothers of Prescription Drug Abuse Victims Testify in US Congress

If you have a teenaged son or daughter, are you talking to them about the dangers of mixing over-the-counter medications with prescription drugs? The World Health Organization says drug abuse by young people is a serious problem.

A recent survey in the U.S. indicates one in five teens has experimented with everything from painkillers to cough syrup. VOA's Melinda Smith reports on three mothers who lost their sons to prescription medications and want the abuse to stop.

Teenagers -- so full of energy, with their friends at the skateboard park. It looks like a wholesome environment. Typical kids their age, they like to show off for each other.

But an alarming statistic from the Partnership for a Drug Free America reveals another adventurous habit -- one in five American teens reports using prescription painkillers just to get high.

The drugs are easy to obtain from home, the drugstore shelf or with a prescription from a doctor. Linda Surks says her son Jason ordered his drugs over the Internet. "I know he believed he was being safe. He used the Internet to research the safety of certain drugs and how they react to others."

Linda Surks, Misty Fetko and Barbara van Rooyan all lost their sons to medications readily available to kids.

Barbara van Rooyan told a congressional hearing what happened after her son Patrick mixed a fatal dose of the painkiller Oxycontin with a beer. A friend had told him it was safe. "As happens with someone who is intolerant to opiates, he stopped breathing in his sleep. After five days in a coma, Patrick was reported to have no brain activity."

When Misty Fetko tried unsuccessfully to wake up her son Carl, she discovered a bottle of cough syrup beside his bed. She thinks he mixed it with fentanyl, a prescription drug for pain. "I got to his bedroom, but I noticed right away something was wrong because he wasn't responding to me and I noticed he wasn't breathing."

The U.S. government's Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that emergency room cases of Oxycontin drug abuse rose more than 500 percent between 1995 and 2002. It's been estimated that prescription drug abuse in the United States affects at least six million people.

These three mothers want the government's help in restricting the distribution of these drugs, and for doctors to be more alert to potential drug abuse by teens.