Sherrie and Aaron Ruben

Sherrie and Aaron Ruben (fox5sandiego.com / January 18, 2012)

POWAY, Calif. - There is a growing movement to educate parents and students about the dangers of prescription drugs in San Diego.

The problem of teenagers using and abusing prescription medication has become such an epidemic, a group of local leaders and parents are hosting a first of its kind town hall meeting on the topic Thursday night in Poway.

"Prescription pills, like Oxycontin and Vicodin are the new gateway to heroin," said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Thomas Lenox. "Opiate drugs are easily as dangerous as heroin."

Seven San Diego County teenagers died from heroin in 2010. That is two more deaths than all of the teenage deaths for heroin between 2000 and 2009 combined, according to the San Diego County's Medical Examiner.

"Good kids, good families, good community, bad kids, bad families, bad communities, there is no distinction with this disease," said Sherrie Rubin.

Rubin's son, Aaron, overdosed on Oxycontin in 2005 when he was 23 years old. He played football and graduated from Poway High School in 2000.

Aaron suffered a heart attack and two stokes, and underwent two years of brain rehab. He is now a quadriplegic and can only communicate by holding up one finger for the word, yes, and two fingers for the word, no.

Rubin said her son did party in high school and sometimes took muscle relaxants, but she chalked it up to "being a high schooler."

"I didn't know what signs and symptoms to look for regarding pill abuse. Had I known, I feel like I might have been able to help my son more," said Rubin.

Agent Lenox said teenagers think they're harmless because they came from a pharmacist or doctor.  Teens are crushing up the opiate pills and smoking them for a stronger and faster high, he said.  

"Kids never think they will do heroin, but when they can't get pills, the only thing that gives them the same high is heroin," said Lenox.

Sherrie and Aaron now travel around to San Diego schools and talk about their situation and raise awareness about drug abuse.

"The only way to arm yourself and protect your kids is through knowledge," said Ruben. "We were an average family, and it happened to us, it is happening to our community, don't bury your head in the sand."

The Facebook Page" href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Poway-Town-Hall-Meeting/158463550927914" target="_blank">town hall meeting is Thursday, January 19, at 7 p.m. at Templar's Hall in Old Poway Park on Midland Road.

Poway's mayor, the City Council, and Poway Unified School District board members will all be in attendance, as well as coaches and members of the Poway Sheriff's Department.

The free event is an opportunity to have a discussion about the growing epidemic.

"Young kids think either they will party or die. Well, there is another consequence. You could be trapped in your own body like Aaron," said Ruben.

When she asked her son if he would have done drugs knowing what it would do to him, he held up two fingers, for "no."