What types of drugs do you think teens are into now? Marijuana or cocaine? They’re still easy to get, right? Yes, these are still out there and readily available but there are drugs that are even easier to get and you probably have some of them in your medicine cabinet. Deaths due to drug overdose are on the rise and those medications in your cabinet are part of the reason. In fact, unintentional drug overdose is the highest leading cause of accidental death and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the number of these deaths have more than tripled since 1990. According to The Medicine Abuse Project, one in six teens has used a prescription drug that was not prescribed for them and one in ten has used a prescription pain medication without a prescription. These are the most abused drugs by 12 and 13 year olds and the majority of them are taken from their home or a friend’s home, not bought on the street or from a dealer on the internet.
Why are teens turning to drugs? For some of the same reasons they have in the past, just to get high, but why is the focus shifting to prescription medications? They see adults taking medications all the time and are more aware of the use of prescription medications to deal with emotional issues first hand. They don’t see prescription drug use as dangerous. After all, it was prescribed by a doctor, not bought off the street from a stranger. Teens are not just looking for a way to get high but are now trying to avoid depression or anxiety or to help their performance in school. The pressure to perform in both sports and school has amped up kids’ anxiety levels leading them to believe that the only way through is to get some “help” from the medicine cabinet. Prescription pain relievers like Codeine, found in prescription cough syrups, Morphine and Oxycodone or other codeine derivatives, and sedatives or tranquilizers like phenobarbital, valium and rohypnol, to name just a few, help teens to feel relaxed and dreamy so they can forget their stress. Amphetamines, such as Ritalin or Concerta, that are frequently used to treat ADHD or narcolepsy are abused to allow teens to stay up late partying, playing or studying and then get up early to head to school and keep up their good grades.
The ease of access for these prescription drugs makes them perfect targets for teens looking for relief. The first thing we need to do is to protect our children from these drugs with a few simple steps:
- Educate yourself: Find out more about prescription drug abuse at drugfree.org and The Medicine Abuse Project.
- Communicate the risks of prescription medicine abuse to your kids.
- Safeguard your medicine: Keep all medications locked up just as you would your valuables. Ask your friends and family to do the same.
- Get help: Know the signs of drug abuse and if you think your child has a problem get help.
Do you know what to look for if your child is using drugs? What are the signs? A parent’s intuition is a valuable tool in determining whether your teen is using drugs. Is their behavior different? Are they going to more parties, coming home smelling like smoke, have red eyes, seem disoriented or don’t remember conversations? Have they ditched their friends for a new group, stopped caring about their appearance or are their grades slipping? If you suspect drug use it may be time to intervene by setting stricter limits, having discussions about their activities, monitoring them more closely and making sure you know what they are up to and who their friends are.
Teens need boundaries and need to know that you care about them and are watching them. Sometimes it makes it easier for them to be able to say, “I can’t because my parents will know. They will test me.” There is pressure to excel and to try and abuse drugs but drug testing can be a strong deterrent. The idea isn’t to catch them but to give them a firm reason to say “No”. Prevention is the best way to help your child stay safe and grow up healthy. Let them know you trust them, but you are watching!