Teens may frequently experiment with drugs by stealing leftover medication from their home, which can lead to addiction. However, parents can take these steps to safeguard their unused prescription drugs.

Prescription drugs are a leading source of addiction for teens in the United States. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explains that teens are frequently obtaining drugs from friends or using leftover prescription drugs that they find in the home.

When someone takes medication that is not prescribed for them, it is referred to as diversion. Drug diversion also includes instances where drugs are purchased illegally or stolen from hospitals. Teens who gain access to prescription drugs and consume them risk becoming addicted to them.

The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study explained that 11% of adolescents admitted to using drugs within the past year. Girls were more likely to use leftover drugs, while boys were more likely to purchase drugs illegally. 30% of teens who already used prescription drugs obtained them from a medicine cabinet at home.

NIDA: 70% of Teens Report Multiple Sources for Obtaining Prescription Drugs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports on the statistics of abuse of prescription drugs among teens. Prescription drug abuse in teens during 2018 included:

  • 6.1% of students in 8th grade have used illegal drugs other than marijuana
  • 9.6% of students in 10th grade have used illegal drugs other than marijuana
  • 12.4% of students in 12th grade have used illegal drugs other than marijuana

Data collected by NIDA indicates that, between 2002 and 2006, one out of every eight seniors in high school abused prescription opioids. A significant danger is present for long-term addiction and overdose, especially when opioids are combined with other substances.

The NIDA’s trend report also explains that one in three students in 12th grade say that prescription opioids are easy to obtain. In the NIDA study, 70% of the teens said that they have multiple sources for drugs. When their source exists in their own home, easy access can be a gateway to addiction.

Stopping Addiction Before It Develops

Prescription drug addiction can be difficult to overcome. When addiction begins in the teens, it can continue into adulthood. It is important that family medications are safely stored and monitored. If children or teens know that their parents are vigilant about the remaining amounts of prescription opioids, they may be less likely to try one out of curiosity. Additionally, open communication is an important dynamic to ensure that teens will come to their parents, or be receptive to their input, should they develop an addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Prescription Drug Use

The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that, even as teen drug use declines, overdose deaths persist due to the accessibility of serious drugs and combinations of drugs. Just one potent dose of an opioid can be enough to cause an overdose in a teenager unaccustomed to the effects of the drug. Being aware of drug use can allow parents to address the addiction before an overdose occurs.

Signs of drug use in teens include:

  • Daily routine changes
  • Appetite changes
  • Changes in social circles
  • Bad grades or behavior at school
  • Changes in physical appearance that are unusual for growing teens
  • Weight loss
  • Hygiene issues
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Stealing
  • Discovering lighters, eye drops or syringes in their room
  • Prescription drugs going missing

Limiting access to medication in the home is an opportunity to protect teens from experimenting with those drugs.

Safe Storage of Prescription Drugs at Home

Prescription drugs should be stored safely. The American Medical Association offers five suggestions for the safe storage of opioids at home:

  1. Opioids should be stored in a location that can be locked
  2. Opioids should be kept in their original container
  3. Opioids should never be within reach of young children
  4. Opioid medications should never be given to or shared with anyone
  5. The safe disposal of leftover medications is essential

Prescription Drug Disposal

It is important that people who have opioids, narcotics or any addictive drugs in their home understand how to dispose of prescription drugs safely. Prescription drug disposal drop-offs are available in many law enforcement centers or public health buildings. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has an online locator to find drug disposal sites near you.

It is not advised to flush drugs down the toilet or discard them with regular waste. Unused drugs can be a source of temptation for experimentation so medication should never be left where teens or other family members can find it.

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By – Joy Youell
Joy Youell is a writer and content developer with a background in educational research. Using sound pedagogical approaches and expert-backed methods, Joy has designed and delivered adult learning content, professional development, and company training materials for organizations. Read more
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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more

Levy, Sharon. “Youth and the Opioid Epidemic.” American Academy of Pediatrics, February 2019. Accessed August 24, 2019.

McCabe, Sean; et al. “Sources of Nonmedical Prescription Drug […]stance Use Behaviors.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, June 1, 2019. Accessed August 24, 2019.

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. “Drug Disposal Locator.” Accessed August 24, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Survey: High Sc[…]ool and Youth Trends.” December 2018. Accessed August 24, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Teens Mix Prescription Opioids with Other Substances.” April 2013. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Robeznieks, Andis. “5 tips for safely storing opioids at home.” American Medical Association, September 6, 2018. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Wood, Danielle. “Drug Diversion.” Australian Prescriber, October 2015. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

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.