Student’s death exposes abuse of prescription drugs — (The Westchester Journal News)

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The Westchester Journal News (Westchester County, NY)

March 21, 2000

Author: Oliver W. Prichard; Staff The Journal News

While rising use of hard-core drugs like Ecstasy and heroin have grabbed recent headlines, last week’s overdose of a Harrison college student has thrust attention on a lesser-known but equally dangerous campus problem: prescription drug abuse.

”People tend to use whatever they can get their hands on, ” said Patrick Burritt, 21, a Purchase College film student. ” If you can’t find anything illegal, there are plenty of legal things you can put together to escape or just to have a good time. ”

A snorted combination of anti-anxiety, migraine and insomnia medications, as well as alcohol and possibly heroin, is suspected to have killed Trinity College senior Josh Doroff on Friday. An autopsy was performed Saturday, but an exact cause of death will not be known for about six weeks, officials said.

Doroff, 21, was a 1996 Rye Country Day graduate who was majoring in economics and political science.

The deadly cocktail of prescription pills consisted of several tranquilizers and a barbiturate, police said. When combined with alcohol, the drugs produced a multiplier effect that probably triggered his brain to collapse his respiratory system, doctors surmised.

Doroff was buried Sunday in Valhalla. His classmate, Nicholas Kaupp III, 22, of Mendham, N.J., had improved substantially yesterday after the drug binge that sent him into an induced coma, Hartford police Sgt. Norberto Huertas said.

Two other students, William Bachman, 21, of South Natick, Mass., and Joshua Eaves, 22, of Downington, Pa., face felony drug charges and are scheduled to be arraigned March 31.

While local treatment experts maintain alcohol, marijuana, heroin and so-called club drugs are more regularly sought by young people, they point to another substratum of abuse that often goes undetected by police, counselors and parents.

From prescription painkillers to over-the-counter cold remedies to the overused attention-deficit drug Ritalin, young people are popping, snorting and guzzling a medley of medicines to find their way to euphoria, doctors and counselors said.

A 1993 Drug Enforcement Administration study found 2.6 million Americans use prescription drugs for ”nonmedical reasons”, and a 1996 Drug Abuse Warning Network report said prescription drugs account for 75 percent of the drugs named in emergency room visits.

Ellen Morehouse, director of Student Assistance Services in Tarrytown, mentions ” Robing, ” the preferred term for people who swill Robitussin cough medicine by the bottle to unleash its strongly hallucinogenic properties.

Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, head of psychiatry for the University of WisconsinHealth Services, is conducting a Ritalin study, with preliminary results showing 3 percent of high school students and 20 percent to 25 percent of college students have improperly used the drug.

They usually crush the tablets into granular form and snort it, creating a powerful stimulant that enters the bloodstream at a higher concentration and results in an enhanced effect.

Young people are drawn to prescription drugs for a number of reasons, experts said. Pharmaceutical products sometimes have less of a stigma than illicit drugs, and they can be acquired from a friend down the hall instead of a dealer on the street.

” Kids see them as medication and figure they must be OK, ” said Dr. Steven Dummit, director of child and adolescent psychiatric ambulatory services at Westchester Medical Center. ” But in reality, it can be more dangerous than some illicit drugs if used improperly. That’s how you wind up with inadvertent overdoses. ”

Christina Darcy, a Purchase College junior from Rockland County, said many of her friends snort Paxil, a prescription anti-depressant drug.

”It’s easy to get your hands on, ” Darcy, 22, said. ” All you have to do is tell a doctor you’re feeling uncomfortable in social situations. People aren’t scared of it because it’s a common drug. You can pick up any magazine and see an ad for Paxil. ”

Burritt of Fairfield, Conn., while taking a cigarette break outside a Purchase academic building yesterday, said boredom and stress often cause college students to seek an escape through drugs.

”None of them are really good highs, ” he said. ” It just messes you up, instead of making you feel like the world is coming down on you. ”

Staff writer Brian Kohn contributed information to this report.
Copyright (c) The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number:  wst9941898939303

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Student’s death exposes abuse of prescription drugs