Prescription drug abuse is at an all time high – no pun intended. Sadly, studies have found that 1 in 5 high school students say they have taken a prescription drug without a prescription. What are they taking? Pain killers, stimulants, and anxiety medications. Specifically, the most common drugs are OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet (narcotic pain pills), Ritalin & Adderall (ADD stimulant drugs), and Xanax (called “bars” because of the shape-an anti-anxiety sedative like valium.)
Many people have a false sense of security using prescription medications to catch a buzz, especially adolescents. The prescription element seems to be a stamp of safety for them (similar to “organic” equals “better”-but I digress). Frankly, it terrifies me to hear of kids swapping any prescription medications, particularly ones as potent as these. Add in that these pills are often combined with alcohol, and you now have a recipe to take your breath away- literally. Both narcotics and alcohol can suppress your drive to breathe, and they are additive when taken together. Accidental overdose is a frighteningly common cause of death for teenagers, and inappropriately used prescription drugs are a major culprit. When I prescribe codeine cough syrup (which is the most common reason I prescribe narcotics this time of year), I always remind my patients that this “cough” medicine is a narcotic, and NARCOTICS + ALCOHOL = DEATH.
Another common pairing of prescription medications and alcohol is “Pre-gaming” with ADD meds, with the intent of revving up with the stimulant so they can “handle” their liquor better…which is a fast track to alcohol poisoning.
What can parents do about this alarming trend?
Number one, TALK to your teen. Ask (in a non-threatening, conversational tone) if they are aware of anyone borrowing prescription medications from friends. Let them know this is DANGEROUS and ILLEGAL. Please throw in the fact that it is a FELONY to buy or sell prescription drugs, and that charge is a one way ticket the wrong direction. The truth is that there is a ton of “altruistic” sharing of medications in college, and that sharing often becomes buying and selling between friends. Kids want the stimulants to help them pull an all-nighter, and that seems like a good and worthy cause to them (although numerous studies have proven all-nighters don’t help grades.) Students also want these drugs to lose weight, or “hold their liquor”, or to use as an escape. Acknowledging these issues up front can lead to a more productive conversation, and talking with your teen at least lets them know you are aware of this risky behavior in general.
Next step? Take a close look at your medication cabinet. Throw away expired drugs, and keep close inventory of any potentially abused medications. If your kid is on ADD meds, make sure they are taking them as prescribed. Finally, if you realize that you are using prescription drugs inappropriately, it’s time for a difficult conversation with your physician. You can’t abuse it if we don’t prescribe it, so this is a problem we need to tackle together, and there are solutions beyond simply cutting you off.
BOTTOM LINE: Prescription drug abuse is out of control. Learn the facts and protect and educate your teens. Get more info at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.