Prescription drug misuse is considered to be a major health concern. The abuse of painkillers and other drugs can result in severe reactions, some even resulting in death. Among teenagers, the use of prescription drugs to get high is changing the nature of drug use in high schools. While parents of the current teen generation may conjure up images of shady characters lingering in a dark stairwell at school, the typical experience is not so black and white.
No longer relegated to the kids on the periphery of the social sphere at school, prescription drug misuse is widespread. In many cases, teens initiate use when they are invited to a party and asked to bring medications from home.
In another scenario, a teen begins using drugs when a particularly stressful week or a demanding class schedule makes him desperate to add hours to his day. A friend with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can easily provide a stimulant like Adderall to help the student reach a state of hyper-focus and avoid sleep for days while he tackles academic responsibilities.
In most cases, it’s not difficult for teens to access medications that are highly addictive. Even if their parents lock up drugs in their own houses, most teens know a relative or a friend where they have access to forgotten bottles of painkillers or other drugs.
A study by researchers at the University of Michigan says that, in general, parents are not doing enough to limit the access of teens to prescriptions. The findings reveal that three out of four teens that hold a prescription for anti-anxiety, sedative or stimulant drugs issued in the past six months were able to access the drugs at home without any supervision.
The researchers caution that the lack of monitoring can increase the widespread misuse that can result in overdose and other serious consequences. The findings highlight the need for increased education among parents and teen patients.
Lead author Paula Ross-Durow, Ph.D. explains that parents need to be instructed about the need for proper storage, as well as what to do when the medication is either expired or no longer needed. This is particularly true when related to a medication that can easily be abused or one that is highly addictive, like many prescription painkillers are.
The study’s findings highlight the behaviors that may be propelling the high rates of overdose related to prescription drug misuse. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013, the rates for deaths related to drug overdose are at an all-time high, and are three times the number of deaths reported in 1990. Many of these deaths are due to the misuse of prescription drugs.
The researchers interviewed teens who reported access to their own medications, which included stimulant, pain, anti-anxiety and sedative drugs. All of the substances discussed were federally controlled.
Even among teens that described their medication use and storage as supervised, more than half said that the storage locations were, in fact, accessible. These included a pantry or drawer in a kitchen or bathroom. Some even described a supervised storage area as a countertop.
The researchers were surprised by the responses, particularly because the teens involved in the study were in 8th or 9th grade and had a mean age of 14.1 years.
The study took place over a period of five years and included interviews of more than 500 teenagers. They answered questions about the medications they were prescribed, the storage practices for the medication in their home and whether their access was supervised.
Various studies have shown a disconnect between the number of parents who believe their child is engaging in dangerous substance use behaviors and the number of teens that report their engagement in dangerous substance use behaviors.
Parents should take every opportunity to limit their child’s access to prescription medication. Even medications that are locked up should be monitored for pill counts.