Prescription Drugs and Prom

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Think back to your high school prom-you and your friends may have swigged some alcohol before heading into the gym, and you probably attended an after-prom party that was stocked with booze, cigarettes, and possibly marijuana. Your child’s prom experience may be similar, but with one big difference: the after-party will likely also be equipped with piles of colored tablets and plastic-covered tubes that can have deadly consequences, especially when mixed with alcohol.

With prescription drug abuse on the rise among teens, it’s important for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of using prescription drugs to get high, especially before prom. In 2008, 1.9 million teens between the ages of 12 to 17 abused prescription drugs, with 1.6 million abusing a prescription pain medication. This makes painkillers among the most commonly abused drugs by teens after tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. Every day, an average of 2,000 teenagers age 12 to 17 used a prescription drug without a doctor’s guidance for the first time.

Why Prescription Drugs?

Many teens believe that prescription drugs are safer to use than illegal drugs, simply because they were prescribed by a doctor. However, prescription drug abuse is just as dangerous as alcohol consumption and illicit drug use. Many teens also believe that prescription medications aren’t addictive, when narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin have an extremely high potential for addiction. In fact, in 2006, more teenagers became dependent on or abused prescription drugs than young adults, according to a 2006 SAMHSA study.

Prescription drugs are also relatively easy to obtain and conceal, and many parents will be looking for signs of alcohol intoxication rather than the kind of high that comes from prescription drugs. The majority of teens (56 percent) say that prescription drugs are easier to obtain than illegal drugs (PATS, 2006), and nearly half (47 percent) say they get their prescription drugs from a relative or friend. Ten percent say they bought painkillers from a friend or relative, and 10 percent said they took the drugs without asking.

Peer Pressure

More than one-third of teens say they feel pressured to abuse prescription drugs, and nine percent say abusing prescription drugs is an important way to fit in with their friends. According to a 2006 CASA survey, more teens have been offered prescription drugs than other illicit drugs, aside from marijuana.

Parents should bring up the concept of peer pressure to their children, and explain to them that while it may seem "cool" to abuse prescription medication, many teens who do so end up addicted or in the hospital due to overdose.

Girls are also more likely than boys to have abused prescription drugs in the past year, according to a 2006 SAMHSA study. Teenage girls also have higher rates of prescription drug abuse and addiction than boys, which could be due to peer pressure.

Overdose and Addiction

Overdose and addiction are common side effects of prescription drug abuse. It can be easy to overdose on powerful medications, especially if they are combined with alcohol. "Pharm parties" have become popular among teens, and could very well be incorporated into post-prom activities. These parties involve attendees bringing prescription drugs to a party, and the different medications are combined in a bowl. The bowl is passed around, and kids will pop a handful of pills in their mouths, often washing the combination down with alcohol. These parties often lead to hospitalization and overdose.

From 2006-2007, emergency room visits involving prescription drugs increased by 21 percent from 2004-2005, and in 2006, nearly half of all emergency department visits resulting from dextromethorphan abuse (DXM; a common ingredient in many over-the-counter cold and cough medicines) were patients between the ages of 12 and 20 years old.

Vicodin and OxyContin, two of the most abused prescription drugs, are incredibly addictive. If kids start experimenting with these drugs in adolescence, their risk of developing an addiction later in life greatly increases. In the last 10 years, the number of teens entering treatment for addiction to prescription drugs has increased by more than 300 percent.

Talking to Your Kids

Take some time before prom to talk to your kids about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Explain to them that while it might seem fun to use pills to get high, it can be even more dangerous than using illicit drugs, and that their greatly anticipated evening could end with a trip to the emergency room. Also explain that experimenting with prescription drugs now could greatly damage their future, making them more vulnerable to addiction into adulthood.

You may also want to mention that being high during prom could result in suspension or expulsion, and that it will tarnish their memory of what should be a fun, celebratory event.

Be sure to provide your children with a ride home; make sure they have your local taxi company’s number or offer to pick them up if they need a ride, and make sure to explain that they should never accept a ride from someone who has been drinking or using drugs of any kind. Also make sure that your own prescription medications are safely locked away, ensuring that your kids can’t get a hold of them. Even if you think your child isn’t the "type" to abuse prescription drugs or take your medication without permission, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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