6 Steps to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse in Teens
More kids abuse prescription drugs than any other drug except marijuana. Learn 6 steps you can take to protect your child.
Brendan probably doesn’t match your idea of a drug abuser. He’s 16, captain of his lacrosse team, a top student with college plans. He also abuses prescription medications. But he doesn’t see that as a problem. “I don’t drink or do anything risky. I just take Vicodin sometimes. Safe stuff.”
Every day about 2,500 kids age 12 to 17 abuse a prescription drug for the first time. And yet many parents aren’t aware of this problem. According to the National Office of Drug Control Policy:
- More teens abuse prescription drugs than any other drug except marijuana.
- Teens choose prescription drugs because of a false belief that they’re safer than illegal drugs.
- Most kids get these drugs from friends and relatives, often by raiding their medicine cabinets.
- Kids who abuse prescription drugs usually started before age 15.
- Teens say parents are not discussing the dangers of prescription drugs with them.
If you’re the parent of a teenager, take steps to head off trouble before it starts. Your teen needs your help to understand the risks of prescription drugs. You can also remove temptation by closely monitoring the drugs in your home.
What you need to know
The prescription drugs teens are most likely to abuse are:
- Pain relievers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. These are the most abused prescription drugs. Kids use them to get high, and they are very addictive.
- Depressants (sedatives and sleeping pills) such as Xanax and Valium. Kids use them to relax or feel calm. They can lead to dependence and addiction.
- Stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine or Provigil. These drugs increase attention and alertness and decrease appetite. Kids often use them to study or lose weight. Risks include addiction, heart attack and seizures.
- Steroids. Kids use these to boost their athletic performance or build their bodies. These drugs can cause serious sexual, physical and mental health effects.
Kids also abuse some over-the-counter medications, such as cough medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DM). Use the same precautions with these medicines as with prescription drugs.
Many kids who abuse prescription drugs are also abusing other substances, such as alcohol, marijuana or over-the-counter drugs. Mixing drugs like this has led to a dramatic rise in accidental poisonings and deaths.
What parents can do
Many kids believe the myth that prescription drugs are safe because doctors prescribe them. They don’t understand that these are powerful substances that can be lethal when used the wrong way or by the wrong person.
1. Teach your child about the dangers of prescription drugs. Things you should tell your child:
- Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous or deadly as illegal drugs if they’re used without a doctor’s approval and supervision.
- Prescription pain relievers are narcotics, same as heroin. These and many other prescription drugs can lead to addiction and lifelong problems.
- Mixing prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol can kill.
2. Keep a close watch on the drugs in your home. Keep notes of how many pills are left in each prescription. If your child takes medicine, you should be the one who gives it to him and picks up the refills.
3. Keep medications secured. Don’t leave prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. Keep all medications in a locked drawer or other secure place.
4. Get rid of unused or out-of-date medications. But don’t just toss them in the trash. And never flush medicine down the toilet unless the label says it’s OK.
- Take prescription medicines out of bottles, and mix them with coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter. Then put them in a can or plastic bag and place them in the trash. Or, take them to your pharmacy for disposal.
- Remove labels from pill bottles before disposing to protect your personal information and prevent refills.
5. Educate others. Talk to relatives and friends about this problem. Try to convince them to take the same measures to monitor and secure their medications.
6. Don’t underestimate your influence. Kids who know that their parents strongly disapprove are much less likely to abuse prescription drugs.