You — like most Americans — likely have at least one prescription medication in your home, easily accessible to your teen. Though these substances may seem safer than street drugs, many are addictive and can be just as destructive as illicit substances.
Are Prescription Drugs Dangerous?
Don’t be fooled by the orange bottles. Prescription drugs — doctor’s note and all — can be equally as dangerous as alcohol or any illicit drug. In fact, adverse reactions from prescription medications cause 10 times as many deaths as illegal drugs, making it the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.. Doctors fill more than 4 billion prescriptions each year in the U.S., and odds are someone in your family has a prescription. As a parent, it’s important to realize that having these drugs in your house requires you to stay alert.
Dangerous prescription drugs include:
- Sleep aids
- Anxiety pills
- Dietary supplements
Even with a prescription, these drugs can lead to serious problems like sickness, organ damage and irregular heart activity. But more than ever before, young and old alike are misusing these drugs — taking more than the recommended amount, or taking them without a prescription. In some cases, this can lead to a full-blown drug addiction. Of the 4.6. million drug-related American ER visits in 2009, 27% involved nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals.
Popularity of Pills among Teenagers
Other than alcohol and marijuana, pills have become the drug of choice for many experimenting teens. Between 2008 and 2013, teen misuse of prescription drugs increased by 33%. Around 1 in 4 teens have abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, and a third believe it’s okay to use pills that weren’t prescribed to them when treating an injury or illness.
When not using them to self-medicate, teenagers might pass around pills after school, at a party, or even before going to class. Major drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are sometimes called “study drugs” and are popular among teens when taking tests or writing papers. Other drugs, specifically opioid painkillers (e.g. oxycodone, hydrocodone) and anxiety pills (e.g. Xanax, Valium), are a popular new method of “getting high.” Almost half of teens wrongly believe that abusing prescription pills is safer than using illicit drugs. But in 2014, 1,700 young people died from a prescription overdose, and thousands of others landed in the hospital with serious side effects.
Opioid Facts and Stats
As painkillers, opioids can produce intense euphoric effects if taken in large amounts. This is why they have the potential to be misused (with or without a prescription), leading to opioid addiction and fatal opioid overdose. However, pharmaceutical companies were unaware of these highly addictive qualities in the late ‘90s, when doctors began prescribing them more frequently. This is how the opioid crisis began. Now, both pharmaceutical companies and doctors are well aware of the dangers associated with the misuse of fentanyl and other opioids. These include the overdose symptoms, some of the most serious of which are:
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow or erratic pulse
- Unresponsive to outside stimuli
Since the opioid crisis began, there have been many statistics gathered on its victims, including the unlikely ones: children. There have been thousands of opioid-related emergencies involving children throughout the nation, with some victims as young as 13 months of age.
Accidental Opioid Ingestion Cases
Almost 60,000 children under the age of 5 accidentally ingest prescription medications every year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).<
Poison Control Calls
There were 188,000 calls between January 2000 and December 2015 to U.S. poison control centers that involved children who were exposed to opioids, averaging 32 calls a day. This is according to a study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Opioid Poisoning Cases
Fifty-one children under the age of 5 died from opioid poisoning in 2015, according to the Associated Press. This was 51 percent more than the number in 2000.
These statistics are alarming, but medical professionals have increased their efforts to combat the opioid crisis, especially those in the states that have been hardest hit by it. The Recovery Village’s Umatilla, Florida facility and its newest Columbus, Ohio facility are just two of the many drug rehabilitation centers that are part of the efforts. If you currently have a painkiller prescription, you can help lower the number of children who are exposed to these opioids and save lives simply by practicing safe handling and education.
What Should I Do?
Just as you should lock your liquor cabinet, it’s essential to safeguard your medications. Even over-the-counter medications like Tylenol can hurt your children. With no-nonsense prescription drugs — many of which are narcotics, as classified by doctors — the dangers are too severe to leave them in reach of your family.
To best keep your children safe, you should:
- Put any medications in a locked drawer, cabinet or safe
- Keep count of the pills in each bottle
- Keep prescription refill forms hidden and private
- Make sure your spouse and other older loved ones monitor their own medications
- Ask the parents of your child’s friends to safeguard their prescriptions as well
- Don’t throw spare pills in the garbage
- Remove personal information from pill bottles before you throw them away
Of course, the dangers extend far past your own home. Do everything you can to make your household a safe place to your children. Once you’ve done that, stay alert of your son or daughter’s life outside the house. Get to know to their friends. Monitor their whereabouts, and keep an eye out for any signs of a potential substance problem. And from an early age, explain to your children that drugs and alcohol — and yes, even pills from the doctor’s office — are not to be messed around with. Education is often the key to prevention.
How to Protect Your Child From the Opioid Crisis
1. Lock Your Medicine Cabinet
This may seem like the most obvious way to protect children from opioid exposure, but only 20 percent of American adults who take prescription medications keep them locked up. This is according to a 2017 Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs survey of more than 1,000 American adults. Always keep both prescription and over-the-counter medications in a locked place, out of children’s reach. If you store your medications in a drawer, invest in a drawer lock to make it childproof.
2. Check Your Floors
Many prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone come in tablet form. Just as with any other bottle of pills, it’s easy to accidentally drop a pill or two on the ground as you’re tapping the bottle against your palm. If you have prescription opioids at home, get in the habit of checking the floor after you take them. Even if you know you didn’t drop any, check anyway; you might have dropped one in the past that you missed. It’s better to spend a few extra seconds to scope the area and be 100 percent sure than to risk having a child find them.
3. Know Your Surroundings
According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the five states with the most opioid overdose deaths in 2014 were Ohio, California, New York, Florida and Illinois. There are various cities and neighborhoods within these other states that see a greater amount of drug abuse cases than neighboring areas. That’s why it’s vital to have a general idea of the safety of your surroundings as far as drug abuse is concerned. Which areas see the most drug crimes? Which are the safest overall? If you don’t already have the answers to these questions, you can find them on the sites like crimereports.com. If you’re looking for nationwide statistics on drug abuse, you can find them at drugabuse.gov or cdc.gov.
4. Teach Your Kids About Opioids
While children often learn about the dangers of various drugs in school, that doesn’t mean you can’t provide some education of your own. Even if you don’t have any opioid medications in your home, your child might visit a home that does. That’s why it’s important to talk to them about the dangers of opioids and why they should stay away from them. Showing your child photos of what these drugs look like can also be very helpful. In powder form, some opioids may resemble Pixy Stix or plain sugar to a child. In pill form, they can resemble certain candies. Both forms can easily result in what’s referred to as “exploratory exposure.” With that in mind, remind your child to never ingest any powder or tablet that they come across.
What If My Teen Has a Prescription?
Following surgery, an injury, or being diagnosed with a mental health problem (e.g. depression, anxiety, ADHD), your child may be prescribed medication by their doctor. You should closely follow the doctor’s instructions. These prescription drugs can help them through the worst of recovery, or can help them feel “normal” if they suffer from some degree of mental illness.
But as their parent, you need to keep a close eye on the situation every step of the way. Ensure that they don’t take more (or less) than they’re supposed to, and have their progress re-evaluated often. Report any disconcerting side effects to their doctor immediately. Also make sure you keep track of every single pill, and personally oversee each pill’s use if you can. The temptation to share these pills with friends, or even make a quick buck by selling them to classmates, can be difficult to resist. You have a responsibility to make sure these powerful medications get used the way they’re intended, and by the person they were intended for.
Does My Teen Need Addiction Treatment?
If you observe signs of substance abuse in your child, do not take them lightly. We at TheRecoveryVillage.com have spoken to many parents who were taken by surprise when they found out about their child’s substance problem. Even if you’re not sure whether your child is abusing substances, it cannot hurt to reach out to your family doctor or a substance abuse counselor in your area, to discuss the symptoms you have seen. You can also speak privately to an addiction treatment advisor at TheRecoveryVillage.com. There is no cost — we just want to help.
Our staff have dedicated their careers to helping parents like you. If you are concerned that your teenager may be abusing substances, please know that we at TheRecoveryVillage.com exist just for you. We wouldn’t be here if we did not believe in the transformative power of drug rehab treatment . Get in touch now — it’s free, confidential and there are no obligations. Your child is worth the call.
“Study Shows 70 Percent of Americans Take Prescription Drugs.” CBS News. CBS Interactive Inc., 20 June 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
“Over Prescribed America.” Top Masters in Healthcare. Top Masters in Healthcare, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
“Total Number of Retail Prescriptions Filled Annually in the U.S. 2013-2021.” Statista. Statista, 2016. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
“Prescription Drugs.” NIDA for Teens. National Institutes of Health, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.