Police think teen died from alcohol, prescription drug

The Ashland teen was found with a fentanyl patch on his leg.
Sunday, July 8, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ben Smith, 18, spent Independence Day drinking at a friend’s house, said Ashland Police Chief Scott Robbins.

At 11:25 a.m., the owner of the house called 911 when he found Smith was not breathing, Robbins said. Smith was pronounced dead a short time later at a local hospital.

While police have not yet received the toxicology report that will confirm what killed Smith, Robbins said he thinks the mixture of alcohol and the fentanyl patch police found on his leg caused the Ashland teen’s death.

Fentanyl patches are used to treat chronic pain and are usually prescribed to hospice patients or end-term cancer patients, said Heather Ninichuck, a pharmacist at Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy.

“You can’t just go to the pharmacy and pick them up,” she said. “People would have to have access to someone in either a nursing home or hospice care to get it.”

She said fentanyl patches are rarely abused because the drug is gradually absorbed by the patients’ body over three days.

“Kids are stealing (prescription drugs) from their parents or grandparents and passing them along to their friends,” Robbins said. “That’s why they’re hard to track.”

Although it isn’t a quick high, not having to keep ingesting the drug is part of the appeal, he said, which makes prescription drug abuse hard to combat.

“Prescription drug abuse is a big issue everywhere, but Ashland is in the limelight because we’ve had two deaths in two years,” he said.

In 2006, 17-year-old Cris Crivello, of Ashland, died after overdosing on his father’s prescribed pain medication.

Robbins said he hears emergency response calls for overdoses almost every day over his police radio.

Misty Simpson, a 17-year-old senior at Southern Boone County High School, was in Smith’s graduating class. She said she thinks more than half of the student body drinks alcohol, smokes marijuana or uses other drugs. But because it’s a small school in a small town, she said drug and alcohol abuse is only talked about when someone dies.

“They don’t focus too much on it. It’s a sore subject,” Simpson said. “Principals and teachers don’t want to (tick) people off.”

The Ashland Police Department teamed up with the southern Boone County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to organize a mock accident. But many people felt it was too soon after the death of 16-year-old Amanda Nowlin, who died in a car accident Feb. 28 in southern Boone County, so they had to cancel it, Robbins said.

Next year, Southern Boone County High School plans to drug test all of its students. Simpson said a lot of students and parents were upset by the new policy, calling it an invasion of privacy.

In Columbia, alcohol and drug abuse education begins in elementary school. Sgt. Eric White, who supervises the Columbia Police Department’s Community Youth Services Unit, said he thinks prescription drug abuse has become more prevalent now because prescription drugs have become more accessible.

White’s unit teaches the D.A.R.E. program to fifth-grade students.

“At that age, kids are very responsive. But we need more time and resources to reinforce it,” he said.

White said he wishes the department could target junior high students because that’s when kids are first exposed to drugs and alcohol.

Both White and Robbins agreed that to combat drug abuse, parents need to talk to their children.

“Parents are in denial. They think that it’s not my kid doing this,” Robbins said. “It sounds tired, but know what your kids are doing and who they are with.”

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