We hear about teen drug abuse every day. It’s a major issue in our society, and disrupts the lives of teens and their families on a daily basis. Most parents are aware of the dangers and prevalence of illicit drugs. However, many underestimate or are not fully aware of the risks lurking in their own homes.
When it comes to teens and prescription drug abuse, the numbers don’t lie. In fact, every day in the United States, 2500 youth ages 12 to 17 begin to abuse prescription pain medications, and 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal drugs.
The Gateway to Drug Abuse
Prescription medications are often the first exposure teens have to drug use. Prescribed medications used by parents or other family members are easily accessible, and carry far less stigma than purchasing or trying illegal drugs such as marijuana or methamphetamine. Teen prescription drug abuse, however, is a very serious problem. In fact, 60% to 70% of teens who abuse drugs admit that home medicine cabinets are their source for getting high, and that they are given these drugs by friends or relatives. Complicating matters is the fact that 23% of teenagers say their parents are less concerned about their abusing prescriptions than about “street drugs.”
Perhaps the biggest problem with prescription drug abuse is that it often provides a gateway to other dangerous drugs such as heroin, when family members start asking questions, or their usual pills become scarce. In fact, heroin use in teens rose a staggering 80% between 2002 and 2011.
Check Your Medicine Cabinet
What types of prescription drugs are most likely to be abused? Almost anything can be, but the drugs carrying the highest risk of abuse include pain relievers like Vicodin, OxyContin, or Codeine. Also at risk are anxiety or sleep medications such as Valium or Xanax. Even medications for ADHD, such as Adderall and Ritalin, prescribed for themselves or others, can induce a high when overused or administered improperly.
All this adds up to an increasing trend that’s hard to swallow. In 2001, 765 young people lost their lives to prescription drug overdose. By 2011, that number had risen to 1,950 – an increase of 2.5 times. And in 2012, 24% of teens admitted to abusing a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime.
What Can Parents Do?
Probably the most important thing you can do as a parent is be aware. Educate yourself on prescription drugs and which ones may be of particular interest to teens. Keep your own medications in a safe place, and keep an eye on how many pills are left. Promptly dispose of any unused portion. And never neglect to talk to your teen about the dangers of these drugs. Make sure they understand the seriousness of prescription drug abuse, and make your own expectations clear.
If you are worried about your teen and prescription drugs, get the advice of a professional right away. The earlier you take action, the better chance your teen has of turning away from these and other addictive substances.