Prescription pills are popular drugs among teens, police say

The Metropolitan Police Department recently informed parents about drug abuse among teenagers.

“The abuse is heavy in our community right now,” said Detective Joseph Pannullo, a narcotics officer, during the department’s 1st Tuesday program at the Southeast Area Command, 3675 E. Harmon Ave. “We always think, ‘It’ll never happen to my kid,’ but they may be battling things we don’t know about.”

The department hosts the open house-style event monthly on the first Tuesday at area commands around the valley.

Pannullo said marijuana, spice, prescription pills, heroin, ecstasy and molly are common drugs that teenagers abuse.


Pannullo said prescription pills are the fastest-growing drugs used among teenagers because they have access to their parents’ medicine cabinets.

“Kids are impressionable. They don’t think pills are going to hurt them,” he said. “They think, ‘My parents take pills. My grandparents take pills. They won’t hurt me.’ ”

Prescription pills are the cause of more drug-related deaths in Clark County than any other substance, police said.

Oxygontin, Lortab, Vicodin, Valium and Alprazolam are a few medications commonly abused. Pannullo said parents should lock or hide their prescription pills from children and pay attention to missing medication.

“If they have a (drug) problem, they’re going to go searching for it,” he said.


Teenagers sometimes have misconceptions about the effects of marijuana, according to Pannullo.

“Kids get it in their head that it’s God’s plant and it won’t hurt them,” he said. “It clearly does. It leads them to other drugs.”

Known as the “gateway drug,” Pannullo said most drug abusers he has questioned said their habits started with marijuana as a teenager.

“That high wasn’t enough, so they were introduced to methamphetamine or cocaine,” he said. “Once you get addicted to a drug, you’re always chasing a bigger high.”

Marijuana can be smoked using pipes, bongs or cigarette papers or ingested through food and beverages. It has many nicknames, such as weed, pot, Mary Jane and grass.


Spice, or K2, is a synthetic compound that can be smoked to mimic the effects of marijuana, Pannullo said.

Although the drug is marketed as potpourri or herbal incenses and labeled “not for human consumption,” possession of spice in Nevada is a felony.

Spice is made by spraying an herbal mixture sprayed with a chemical compound, said Lt. Peter Boffelli, a narcotics officer.

“It has to be analyzed by the lab before we can charge anyone,” Boffelli said. “It could be six days, six weeks, six months before we even know that we have an illegal substance.”

Unlike marijuana, spice does not show up on drug tests, according to Pannullo.

“The users can get their high and not have to worry about getting drug tested at work,” he said. “There’s no drug test that can identify spice in their system, and that’s the dangerous part.”


Because most pain pills contain morphine-like chemicals called opioids, Pannullo said it’s common for teens who use pills to start abusing heroin because of the cost difference.

“Sometimes they’re paying $25 or $50 for pills, and that can get expensive once they don’t have the supply from their medicine cabinet,” he said. “They turn to heroin because they can get the same high for way less.”

Heroin use in high schools is growing as drug dealers target wealthy neighborhoods, Pannullo said.

“(Drug dealers) are giving it to kids to try because they know they’ll get hooked once these kids try it,” he said. “The dealers figure mom and dad have a lot of money and can support (their child’s) habit.”

Heroin is commonly sold in multicolored balloons for about $10, and some addicts spend up to $500 a day, Pannullo said.

Common paraphernalia used with heroin are spoons, needles and pipes. It can be smoked, snorted or injected and is nicknamed black tar, dope and big H.


Ecstasy is a stimulant that has hallucinogenic properties and is usually sold in pill form.

Pannullo said the drug increases a user’s blood pressure and body temperature and enhances pleasure and touch.

“It’s basically the happy drug,” he said. “The only good thing about it is (users) are generally not violent people.”

The drug gives users a rush of energy for two to three hours before causing extreme fatigue. Common nicknames are MDMA, E and roll.

“It’s very dangerous if they’re not taking in the water to keep their body temperature down,” Pannullo said. “They could overheat themselves and die pretty quick.”


Molly is marketed as ecstasy in capsule form but may contain additional substances, Pannullo said.

“Dealers are trying to make a profit by making as many capsules as possible,” he said. “They’ll throw in some bath salts and caffeine with the ecstasy so the person will still get high and the dealer can make more money.”

Emily McCaughan, 22, died in June 2012 after taking molly at the Electric Daisy Carnival, police said.

Police said she fell from her Circus Circus hotel room on the 27th floor after having paranoid delusions caused by the drug.

“There was definitely something more than ecstasy in that pill,” Pannullo said. “That’s what’s so scary about mollies. Dealers could put anything they want in these things, even poison.”


Regardless of the type of drug, Pannullo said everyone will react differently, and sometimes it takes only one dose to kill a person.

“We’ve seen drug addicts that have been on drug cocktails for years and live to be 90,” he said. “Then sometimes we have one kid who tries it one time and they die from it.”

Parents should be aware of warning signs if they are suspicious their child is using drugs. These include becoming secretive or clandestine, performing poorly in school or no longer associating with friends or family.

“If the child is not the open person they raised them to be, that’s a big sign to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ ” Boffelli said.

Parents should not hesitate to search their child’s room, according to Boffelli.

“They have to remember they own the home and the room their teenager occupies,” he said. “They have the right to go in there if they suspect anything.”

Pannullo said parents should also be aware of missing household objects or strange items found in their child’s possession.

“Most kids don’t have jobs, so they have to steal stuff and sell it or trade it to get drugs from their dealer,” he said.

If parents find their children abusing drugs, they can seek assistance through church groups, their health insurance or the drug enforcement administration office, according to Boffelli.

Residents who suspect illegal activity in their neighborhood are advised to call the police.

“We care about everyone’s safety,” Pannullo said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Contact Southwest/Spring Valley reporter Caitlyn Belcher at or 702-380-0403.

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