If the thought of literally putting a lock on the medicine cabinet in your home seems a bit ridiculous or excessive, you might want to think again. Teen prescription drug abuse is becoming a very serious problem in our country today. In fact, adolescents are abusing these seemingly “safe” drugs more than they are using methamphetamines, heroin, crack, and cocaine altogether. Needless to say, it is a serious problem and in many cases, parents are supplying the drugs without even realizing it!
Prescription drugs are every bit as dangerous as so-called “street” drugs. And they are particularly dangerous when combined, because this can lead to harmful and sometimes fatal drug interactions. Many teens combine them because their parents are less likely to notice if one or two pills from several prescriptions are missing as opposed to many pills from one bottle.
Not only that, teens combine them at “pharm parties,” as well as due to current trends they find posted on the internet. The combinations are endless – and the dangers are extremely high.
Just ask the parent of any of the thousands of teens who have died from an overdose or lethal combination of prescription drugs. They most likely would give anything to turn back the clock and lock their medicine cabinet.
Many parents who have guns in their home keep them locked in a cabinet or safe. Ironically, in recent years, deaths due to prescription drug abuse exceed gun-related deaths by over 300%.
Emergency room physicians are seeing more and more teens coming in due to accidental overdose of prescription drugs. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Demorol; stimulants used for ADHD such as Ritalin or Adderall, and anti-anxiety medications (also used for sleep) such as Xanax and Valium. Many other types of prescription drugs are abused as well, including antidepressants, muscle relaxers, mood stabilizers, and diet pills.
Parents often refuse to believe that their child would ever use drugs. Unfortunately, all kids are vulnerable to the seductive appeal of drugs if given the right circumstances. Peer pressure, stress related to school or family life, the desire to lose weight, low self-esteem, problems with depression or anxiety, boredom, and curiosity are just some of the reasons why a teenager might decide to experiment with prescription drugs. If they are easily accessible – right there in the medicine cabinet or sitting on a night stand – the risk of abuse or misuse is very high.
It’s not uncommon for teens to steal prescription drugs when they visit relatives or family friends. If it’s only once in a while, no one is likely to notice, let alone even think to lock up or hide their prescriptions. And since many medications aren’t used all the time it’s much more difficult to detect an occasional decrease in the number of pills. This type of scenario can go on for a very long time, particularly if the prescriptions are refilled every so often and as long as the parents don’t keep track of the quantity of pills – or lock the cabinet.
Teen prescription drug abuse is serious. Consequences for your teen may include:
- Accidents (such as car crashes) and injuries due to drowsiness, impaired judgment, or impaired coordination
- Problems at school, such as poor grades
- Legal problems
- Serious health problems
- Psychological problems
Consequences for your entire family may include:
- Financial problems (e.g. due to legal bills, expensive drug rehab programs, medical bills)
- Conflicts at home
- Legal problems
- Loss of respect in your community
As a parent you must take a proactive role in helping prevent your teen from abusing prescription drugs. Granted, some things are out of your control and there are no guarantees. But one of the first places you can start is by making sure that all medications are monitored closely and kept locked in a safe place. Even if you don’t lock them up and your teen never touches them, one of his friends who comes over to visit him might – and you definitely don’t want that on your conscience should something tragic happen as a result!
Other precautions you can take include talking regularly with your teen (and younger children) about drug use. A caveat here: talk – but don’t lecture. Kids tune out lectures, but they are much more likely to get involved in a genuine two-way conversation with you in which they feel their input is valued. Ask them about their thoughts and feelings about drugs. Also, ask them if they have ever been pressured by a friend to use drugs, or if they have ever considered experimenting with drugs. If they have, talk to them about ways they might handle peer pressure, or the reasons drugs might appeal to them.
Good communication with your teen is one of the best ways to prevent drug use. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about why you need to keep prescription medications locked up. Help them understand that prescription drugs in the home can be just as dangerous as a loaded gun, and that it is your responsibility as a parent to keep everyone safe – including their friends who may come over to visit.
If your medicine cabinet doesn’t have any type of lock on it, or you don’t have another place in which to lock up medications, consider getting a lock box that can easily be installed onto your medicine cabinet. There are some available that have been developed specifically for this purpose.
Remember, prescription drugs can kill. Keep the ones in your home locked up!