It started off with a pill at a party.
Taryn Erbes, a 17-year-old student at Kennedy High School, just wanted to get a little high. She figured the prescription pills were safer than illegal substances like alcohol and marijuana. And since they were legal, Erbes thought she’d get in less trouble if she were caught.
It didn’t take long to find out how wrong she was.
“At first, I just used to get a good high, to feel good,” Erbes said. “I started using it to self-medicate. I started to feel like I needed it every day, every hour.”
Erbes’ drugs of choice were Xanax and Oxycontin. They were easy to get ahold of, she said — all she had to do was ask some friends. Melissa Erbes, Taryn’s mother, said she began notice changes in her daughter. Her grades slipped. She stopped participating in sports and after school activities. She shut herself off from her friends and family.
“She was just so focused on the drugs,” Melissa said. “She disappeared from everything else and everything that was important to her before.”
Earlier this year, Taryn found herself in the hospital. She and her mother said they didn’t recognize the girl sitting in the hospital bed. It was then that Taryn asked to be committed to an in-patient drug abuse program.
“I knew I needed help because I knew if I kept using, it would get to the point where I wouldn’t have another chance,” she said. “I guess I had depression. I self-medicated to get away from the depression. I abused the drug instead of it really helping me.”
Today, Taryn is wrapping up a 90-day treatment program in prescription drug recovery at the Area Substance Abuse Council. She presented her story in the Ladd Library Community Room on Wednesday to kick off the Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center and Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy’s public education program on prescription drug abuse, Iowa Medicine TLC – Talk, Lock and Connect.
Though prescription drug misuse and abuse isn’t as well known as heroin or crack cocaine abuse or the proliferation of synthetic drugs, Dale Woolery, the associate director of the ODCP, said it’s a significant problem in Iowa.
“Prescription drug abuse has become the fastest growing form of substance abuse in Iowa,” Woolery said.
According to Woolery:
“Too many people are getting hurt,” Woolery said. “And tragically, too many people die. We need to work on improving that situation before it gets worse.”
Emily Blomme, ISAIC program manager, said under the public information campaign, officials are urging parents to talk to their children about prescription drug abuse.
“Just starting that conversation is really important,” she said.
Parents are also urged to lock up their medications or otherwise limit access to the pills by disposing of prescriptions that are no longer in use. Blomme said 70 percent of children ages 12 and up who have misused or abuse prescription drugs said they have gotten them from a friend or family members.
Finally, parents were urged to connect with the Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center – housed in the Ladd Library – if they have questions, concerns or are in need of help. The center operates a toll free number – 866-242-4111 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The campaign isn’t advocating against the use of prescription drugs, which are helpful when used appropriately. Rather, it’s trying to prevent the misuse of those medicines, Woolery said.
“It’s clear, now, one person’s medicine can be another person’s poison,” he said. “It’s the poison we want to prevent. With this project, we’re hopeful we can protect more Iowans, particularly young Iowans.”
Taryn is nearing the end of her treatment program and will begin transitioning home. She hopes to graduate in May and said the Area Substance Abuse Council has “changed her life.” Her mother, Melissa, is just happy to have her daughter back.
“She’s even better than she was before,” she said. “She’s just so amazing.”