Today, Colorado inaugurates a program to fight teen prescription drug misuse statewide. The nonprofit, Rise Above Colorado (RAC), launches among growing concerns about a climbing prescription drug abuse and death rate in the state.

Colorado has the second highest rate of nonmedical use of prescription pain relief, according to a national report released in 2013, and a 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey estimated that 29.2 percent of high school seniors had misused prescription medication, which is nearly four percent higher than the national average.

The campaign will encompass classroom lessons, afterschool programs, interactive material on a website, as well as social media and PSA campaigns. Peer-to-peer influence and parental discussions are big focus areas, too: Eighty-eight percent of teens said they would “give a friend a hard time if he or she were going to try prescription drugs,” yet only 32 percent of teens have talked to their parents about such abuse, according to a Colorado Teenage Use and Attitude Assessment. Easy access to drugs—opiates are often found in the home or offered for free—only enhances the issue.

“Ready access to prescription drugs has fueled this rising trend among youth over the past decade,” the Attorney General John Suthers’ office said in a 2013 statement. “From OxyCotin to Vicodin, young Coloradans have ready access to potent drugs often inside their own homes.”

Suthers, who formed The Colorado Plan to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse in conjunction with the Governor’s office, is a partner of RAC. Suthers also chairs Colorado’s Drug Policy Task Force (previously the Meth Task Force), and has had a big role in fighting prescription drug abuse in the state.

In addition to the Attorney General’s office, RAC is partnered with DrugFree.Org, and hopes to pair up with schools and community programs across the state to distribute anti-drug misuse lessons and materials. RAC’s anti-prescription drug abuse campaign plans to target middle and high schools-ers. “Among fourteen-and-fifteen-year-olds, the curiosity goes up, accessibility goes up,” says Kent MacLennan, executive director of Rise Above Colorado. “Those are the risk years.”

MacLennan is also the executive director of the Colorado Meth Project (CMP), which will now be enveloped as part of RAC. If you don’t think you’ve heard of the CMP, you’ve probably seen its unforgettable anti-meth campaign ads like this one. MacLennan says that although some of the CMP’s campaign strategies—such as focusing on schools and peer-to-peer discussion—will transfer from the CMP to RAC’s campaign against prescription drugs, the message and tone will change. “The campaign will be different from meth because the drugs are different,” says MacLennan. “The sameness is going to be relating to kids in an honest, and compelling, and accurate way. The slogan ‘not even once’ was used in campaigns for the meth project, but that may not translate to the prescription drug issue. Prescription pain pills are much more nuanced and complex in how teens view and use it.”

You can learn more about Rise Above Colorado and it’s initiatives by following the organization on Twitter @RiseAboveCo or checking out their Facebook page.

—Image courtesy of Rise Above Colorado

Jerilyn Forsythe
Jerilyn Forsythe
Jerilyn Forsythe is a freelance writer and editor, and 5280's former digital associate editor. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @jlforsyt.