Opioids the New Drug of Choice for Children

Las Vegas—As a former DEA agent of 25 years, Bob Stutman became accustomed to being around drug users and dealers. Since retiring in 1990 after leading the DEA’s New York field division for 5 years, he has run his own consulting firm and spoken about the problems associated with drug abuse. Despite his expertise, Mr. Stutman said even he now has trouble identifying drug traffickers and all of the new drugs that are on the streets. He is especially concerned about the number of children abusing drugs, particularly opioids and other prescription medications. Last year, drug overdose was the leading cause of death by accident in the United States. It used to be car accidents, according to Mr. Stutman.

“I’m incredibly frustrated,” said Mr. Stutman, who spoke on Monday afternoon during a general session at the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute’s drug benefit conference. “We’re in the middle of the of the worst drug epidemic in the history of the United States.” Within 20 seconds of meeting people, Mr. Stutman said he knows if they are addicted to heroin or cocaine. However, he's not aware of anyone who can be certain that someone is abusing opioids because the warning signs aren’t always apparent and people can continue to function properly while misusing painkillers. For instance, he mentioned radio host Rush Limbaugh, who admitted he was addicted to pain medications in 2003 but was able to be on the air with no one noticing any problems.

“With opioids, you can’t tell people are going to hit the cliff,” Mr. Stutman said. During his career, Mr. Stutman said 2 drugs were “culture-changing”: LSD in the 1960s and 1970s and crack cocaine from 1985 to 1992. He claimed that before crack cocaine was prevalent, more than 70% of drug addicts were men. Today, approximately 50% of addicts are women. The most recent “culture changer” is the prevalence of extended-release opioids, according to Mr. Stutman. In 2013, there were 125 million prescriptions for opioids, up from 6 million in 2001. Last year, more people died from prescription drugsthan died from heroin, crack cocaine, cocaine, and methamphetamines combined. More children are abusing drugs, too, according to Mr. Stutman.

On average, children are using drugs for the first time when they are 12 years and 4 months of age. Inhalants are the top drug for children younger than 13 years of age (excluding alcohol and cigarettes), as children “huff” the drugs. The most abused drugs for all children are Adderall and Ritalin, which they crush and then snort.—Tim Casey