I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with parents about teen substance abuse and still find it amazing that most parents are worried more about their child’s friends or a drug dealer exposing them to hard drugs and are still ignorant to the potential for drug abuse the lies right in their own homes.
They still worry about their kids being exposed to alcohol and marijuana, which they should be, but they aren’t worried about what is already in their medicine cabinets, especially prescription painkillers.
With this generation of teenagers, the use of prescription painkiller abuse is up forty percent compared to previous generations according to the University of Colorado Denver researchers, making prescription drug abuse the second most common type of illegal drug use after marijuana.
Teenagers today are turning to Vicodin, Oxycontin and Valium found right at home with prescriptions filled by their parents or other relatives. Many kids often then take these painkillers to school and share/sell them to their peers.
A few schools in my area have a big enough problem with prescription drug use that they do regular searches complete with drug sniffing dogs and all. I’ve worked with a handful of teens addicted to Xanax and Oxycontin that they get right from their own homes.
Often they don’t even know the strength of the drug (or how to read the strength), making the potential for accidentally overdosing extremely high. To top it off, teens often mix taking pills with alcohol which can easily lead to a medical emergency such as respiratory arrest and even death.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 2011, “Drugs exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death in 2009, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Also, some scientist believe that the teenage brain, which is still developing until the early 20’s, is especially susceptible to chemicals which can cause changes in the brain and lead to a lifelong battle with addiction.
Why The Epidemic?
Prescription drugs are more available today than ever, which explains the explosion of prescription drug use in teens. There are so many prescription pills around the house that it is easy for teens to procure them from family members and friends.
We are not talking about pill mills here where adults go to get their fix to prescription medication from shady doctors, but we are talking about legit doctors who may be over-prescribing medications to people who may or may not need the stronger, more addicting medications.
Some parents may also like the “buzz” they get from their prescription pills although they may not abuse them the way their teens are likely to.
Many teens also think that prescription drugs are harmless because they are prescribed by a doctor, their parents take them and their legal. This false since of safety is a dangerous one as hospital emergency rooms around the country are seeing thousands of teens each year due to prescription drug overdose.
What Can Parents Do?
Parents should talk to their teens about prescription drugs, just as they should about other drugs and alcohol. They should also look for signs of prescription drug use such as sleepiness, weight loss, slurred speech and decrease in academic performance.
Parents who have prescription pills should keep them locked up so not to tempt their teens. Treat them as if they were a loaded gun, locked and hidden out of sight.
Parents should also talk openly with their teens about family history of drug abuse just as they would about a family history of other medical illnesses.
It’s amazing how many parents never talk about the long history of addiction, alcoholism or even mental illness in their families, but are surprised when their child finds themselves using and unable to stop using drugs or alcohol.
It’s only fair that a teen know about their vulnerability to addiction so that hopefully that will be an extra motivation to stay away from potentially life changing behaviors.