SAN RAMON -- April Rovero talked to her kids about illegal drugs and alcohol and cautioned them about the dangers.
But the San Ramon mother didn't know that it would be prescription drugs that would take the life of her son, Joey Rovero, and set her on a path to become a national advocate on the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
On Monday, two weeks after a Southern California doctor pleaded not guilty to murder charges in connection with three fatal prescription drug overdoses -- including Joey's -- Rovero held "Overdosed America."
At the health conference at the San Ramon Golf Club, experts warned community members about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
"How did losing our son happen on our watch?" Rovero asked a crowd of about 130. "We talked to him about drugs, but we didn't talk to him about prescription drugs. I wish we had."
Prescription drug problems have taken a toll on Contra Costa County, with Danville, Moraga and San Ramon feeling the effects of not only the substance abuse but the related effects including burglaries, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson told the crowd.
He said his office has four assistant district attorneys whose sole focus is to prosecute drug cases, and one who makes presentations to middle and high school students about prescription drugs.
"There is a prescription drug problem," said Peterson. "We are here as partners to educate kids about how tragic and devastating this problem is."
Rovero and her family founded the The National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse shortly after Joey Rovero's death. The nonprofit hosted the event that featured keynote speaker Gwen Olsen, who spent 15 years as a pharmaceutical representative before having a change of heart after the death of a niece due to prescription drugs.
"I want people to get compassionate about this," Olsen said, "and then I want them to get mad and do something about it."
The conference was part of a series of events the nonprofit has held to designate March as Prescription Drug Awareness Month. San Ramon, Contra Costa County and the state announced they would henceforth recognize the month as such.
Joey Rovero, 21, died in December 2009 from an overdose combination of oxycodone, Xanax and alcohol. He was an Arizona State University student and had driven with friends to Los Angeles to get the prescriptions from Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 42.
According to court documents, Tseng had been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration for years for writing bogus prescriptions, including to undercover agents.
On Monday, Olsen said there is no such thing as a safe drug and that our culture is now accustomed to popping pills to solve our ills. Kids are picking up the habit, she said.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people between 12 and 25 have the highest rates of prescription drug abuse, and 1 in 5 teenagers report they have abused prescription drugs to get high.
"I am not anti-drugs," Olsen said. "If I had pneumonia, I would take an antibiotic, or if I was diabetic I would take insulin, but we would be much better off looking at our lifestyles, exercising and watching our diet rather than popping a pill."
Contact Robert Jordan 925-847-2184.
The National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse has deemed March as Prescription Drug Awareness Month and has held a series of events including "(P)harming," a play written and directed by two California High School seniors that addresses the problem of prescription drug abuse. The play is at 7 p.m. Friday at the California High theater. Tickets are $5 at the door. For details, go to www.ncapda.org.