Julissa Pardomo, Destiny Ramos, and Naya Zapata, SADD Florida
May 15 2012
SADD Florida advisor Sherry Viersen (far left) and teen ambassadors Naya Zapata, Destiny Ramos, and Julissa Pardomo are joined by U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A. (center).

Did you know that of the top 22 substances teens abused across the country in 2011, 8 were prescription drugs often found in the family medicine cabinet? “Abuse” of prescription drugs includes taking them without a prescription, even if you’re taking them for medical reasons. It can also mean sharing your prescription drugs with friends or taking them in a way not intended, including to get high.

Most of the prescription drugs that teens abused were addictive painkillers not even on the list of drugs of abuse a decade ago! Some teens originally got these prescriptions for legitimate reasons, such as having their wisdom teeth pulled or experiencing sports injuries. But, unfortunately, many did not realize how dangerous prescription drugs can be when abused, and they wound up addicted or in the hospital.

We are the University High School Florida SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) Chapter, and the facts, as well as the prescription drug abuse problem in our home state, inspired us to become teen ambassadors for NIDA’s PEERx campaign about prescription drug abuse prevention.

The problem in our state is huge. Last year, prosecutors called Florida the “epicenter” of an epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, prescription painkiller sales per person were more than three times higher in Florida than in the state with the lowest sales per person (Illinois).

The SADD Florida teens’ philosophy is, “If the problem is mine, the solution also begins with me.” With that in mind, we were really excited to represent our fellow peers and SADD as the official “PEERx teen ambassadors” during the first-ever National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Florida.

Photo of a girl interviewing another girl.

Univision television network visits NIDA’s PEERx booth to talk to Naya Zapata about prescription drug abuse among teens in Florida and how her community is using the PEERx program.

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We got a VIP experience during our entire time at the national summit! We met the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Regina Benjamin; the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske; Congressman Hal Rogers from Kentucky; and the Director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow.

Everyone was curious about our experiences and ideas. Stamping people’s hands at the exhibit with “CYP” helped to create curiosity about the “Choose Your Path” videos that we displayed at the PEERx booth. Throughout the 2 days, we talked to people who came to the PEERx booth and told them all about the NIDA campaign, which includes an Activity Guide for teens, fact sheets, cool designs you can download to make t-shirts (we were wearing them), and lots more.

We assisted 100 adults who attended a workshop about PEERx and helped provide them with a “teen perspective” on fun and creative ways to bring PEERx into their community organization or school. We were also interviewed by local television and newspaper reporters, who asked us about the PEERx initiative, the prescription drug abuse problem in our area, and what we are doing about it.

This was a fantastic experience that we will never forget. Thanks NIDA!!!

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