Teens and Prescription Drugs: Little. Legal. Lethal.

Nearly one in five teens has used prescription drugs to get high; one in ten high school seniors has abused prescription drugs in the past year. And that's just what they're willing to admit.

Tammi Lizotte and daughter Abi©2010 Jason Grow/Wonderful Machine
Whitney Lizotte was easily one of the liveliest people in her sleepy hometown of Berwick, Maine. Dishing out ice cream at the Dairy Delight, belting out songs from the musical Rent, or diving into social work classes at York Community College, Whitney, 20, lived boldly: She was impulsive, spontaneous, and bighearted.

So her silence on the morning of April 21, 2009, was unnerving. Whitney had spent the night at a friend’s house in nearby Dover, New Hampshire, playing video games and horsing around with two childhood pals. She seemed fine, the two young men said later. But at 11 a.m., one of them found Whitney lying on a mattress on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, pale and unnaturally still.

When he shook her, she didn’t stir.

Paramedics tried to resuscitate Whitney, but there was little they could do: She had stopped breathing sometime during the night. Whitney was pronounced dead an hour later.

Detectives decided to get in touch with Whitney’s roommate, Brandy Sewall, 22, who had spent the night in the girls’ shared apartment in nearby Rochester, New Hampshire. Whitney had taken the shy, somewhat anxious girl under her wing, and they had become inseparable. Police hoped that Brandy, who had spent the previous day with Whitney, could shed light on what had stricken her.

But en route to the apartment, the detectives got a stomach-churning call: “Get there as fast as you can,” Dover police captain David Terlemezian told them. A relative had just found Brandy in the apartment bedroom, motionless and unresponsive. The officers sped to Pine Street, but they were too late. Brandy, a soft-spoken young woman who loved the ocean and the Boston Red Sox, had stopped breathing too.

The next morning, Dover police got yet another grim call, this time from a boardinghouse just up the street. Matty Rix, 19, an outgoing and popular former high school wrestling star, had been found dead in his bed.

“It was a terrible few days,” says Terlemezian, who directed the investigation. “You can’t imagine how bizarre it is to think you’re investigating one death — and suddenly there’s another. And then another.

“Now you have three dead, all young and all from southern Maine,” says Terlemezian. “You had to ask yourself: Are these cases related?”

It would take several more weeks for the full answer to emerge. When it did, families and friends in these close-knit Maine communities were stunned. There had been no suicide pact, no tainted street drugs, and no fatal intruder. Whitney, Brandy, and Matty had all accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs — legal, widely used, and extraordinarily dangerous.

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