Prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused drugs, after alcohol and marijuana, and the rise in abuse is targeting one segment of the population in particular: teens (click here and scroll down to see charts on the most recent stats for abuse of different types of drugs by teens in grades 8-12). Painkillers are particularly dangerous because there is a high incidence of overdose and dependence, especially with adolescents who may not understand how dangerous they can be when not taken correctly under a doctor’s supervision. There are a number of ways that parents can prevent adolescent painkiller use and abuse including restricting access, practicing proper disposal procedures, and talking to their kids.
The first and best way to prevent adolescent painkiller use and abuse is to restrict access. Lock up any prescription medications, either yours or your child’s, and do not allow teens to medicate themselves.
Keep track of how many of which medicines remain, and properly dispose of expired medicine or medications that you no longer use.
To properly dispose of painkillers, you can take them to the nearest pharmacy or prescription drug drop-off location to do it for you or, to do it yourself, mix it in with some undesirable substance (like kitty litter or used coffee grounds), and then seal into a bag and throw it in the trash. Don’t forget to remove the label or black out personal information before disposing. Do not flush medicine down the toilet unless the label specifically says it is safe to do so!
Further, talk to your kids about the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. They may see you taking prescription medication for an injury or for chronic pain management so they do the same. Make sure your kids understand that even medicines a doctor prescribes can have side effects and dangers, including addiction and abuse. Keep an open-door policy when it comes to talking about peer pressure to either use or procure prescription medicines for friends. Let them blame you as they learn to say “no.” Sometimes just saying, “My parents will kill me if I did that!’ is enough to make peers back off.
Part of talking to your kids is also monitoring their time online.
Take a look at their social media from time to time to see what’s going on, and look into their browser history for any suspicious websites. Even after a Drug Enforcement Agency sting of 22 online pharmacies in 2005, teens still have access to numerous websites that will sell them painkillers online without a prescription. Watch credit card and bank statements for charges you have not made, especially online. A great resource for teens to explore on their own is the NDA for Teens website. Let your kids know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns. Keep that door open, no matter how hard the conversations might be!
Nobody wants to think their teens will abuse painkillers, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. How will you keep your kids safe?
Image by Clement G via Flickr