Story by Lily Leung
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Before an open house, a real estate agent’s to-do list may include a thorough cleaning of the home, clutter removal and stowing valuables in a safe.
But rarely do agents think about advising sellers to stow away prescription medications in a secure place and out of the hands of potential pill pilferers, say officials from two health education non-profit groups in San Diego County.
The North Inland Community Prevention Program and the H.O.P.E. Foundation are trying to stop a disturbing trend: Young adults posing as couples are visiting open houses with a scheme. One person distracts the real estate agent and the other rummages through medicine cabinets for pills, everything from painkiller OxyContin to ADHD drug Ritalin.
Deaths related to OxyContin alone have risen in recent years. The San Diego County coroner’s office recorded 17 between 2004 and 2006. They rose to 53 between 2008 and 20009, or 211 percent, based on numbers from county officials. Areas where the rate of OxyContin-related use is higher include Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Torrey Pines and Tierrasanta.
The misconception among teenagers and young adults is that taking prescribed drugs is safer than taking illicit drugs, said Celeste Young, program manager of the North Inland Community Prevention Program. Once in hand, the pills are either ingested or sold for $60 to $80 a pill.
Young adults are turning to open houses because it’s “much easier than bringing them (pills) over the border or purchasing them over the Internet,” Young said.
The two local non-profits and Rancho Bernardo-based company Oakwood Escrow recently handed out 200 zippered plastic bags to North County real estate professionals to encourage them to stash away prescription medications at home listings before showing them to would-be buyers.
Real estate agent Lori Shannon, who attended one of the presentations, said she had never thought about advising her clients to remove prescription pills from open houses. She will now.
“It’s a shame that we have to think about things like that,” said Shannon, owner of San Diego Legal and Real Estate Services in Rancho Bernardo. “Being a parent of a teenager, (you realize) drugs are everywhere. … Even if the homeowner does not take advantage of it, you’ll feel better to have reminded them.”
Real estate agents who may encounter pill thieves at listings are encouraged to report the incidents to police, said Young, with the North Inland Community Prevention Program.