According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), approximately 6.1 percent of U.S. teenagers abuse prescription medications. Currently, prescription drugs are the third-most abused substance among teens, after alcohol and marijuana. Although the most recent survey data from NIDA shows a slight decline in teenage prescription drug abuse over the last couple of years, it remains a significant health concern for this age group. In many ways, keeping teens away from prescription drug abuse is just one part of the larger challenge of discouraging teens from substance abuse and misuse. However, the two most important things that parents can do to address prescription medication abuse specifically are limiting access to the drugs and addressing the specific dangers of prescription drug misuse.
Get Rid of Unused Medications
NIDA-sponsored research also shows that most teens get prescription drugs from friends, relatives or their own homes. Prescription drugs abound in most homes in the U.S., including drugs such as stimulants and opioids that are commonly abused or misused. As a result, one of the most important steps you can take to discourage teen medication abuse is to dispose of unused medications in your own home. There are several ways to do this, including putting medications in the trash (after certain precautions have been taken) or giving them to community take-back programs. Medications should not be placed in the trash unless you have taken steps to make them unappealing or unrecognizable to people and to pets. This means taking them out of their original, labeled bottles, mixing them with some kind of unpleasant substance like kitty litter and placing them in a new sealed container so that they cannot leak or fall out of the trash. Community take-back programs are increasingly available and often present the best option for drug disposal. These locations, which are sometimes simply secure drop-boxes like those provided by MedReturn, ensure that drugs are disposed of properly and do not fall into the wrong hands.
Talk to Teens About Prescription Drug Dangers
Talking about prescription drug abuse may be even more important than limiting teen access to the substances. Surveys suggest that parents are much less likely to talk to teens about the dangers of prescription drugs than they are about illegal drugs. This may be because prescription drug abuse was not nearly as big of a problem when today’s parents were young, and many parents may not realize how dangerous prescription drug misuse can be. If parents do not realize the dangers and talk about them with their teenagers, teens themselves are much less likely to understand the risks. Teens often start by simply misusing drugs; for example, taking a medication for its intended purpose without having a prescription or using more than the prescribed dosage without a physician or pharmacist’s instructions. From misusing these drugs, teens may go on to use drugs for non-intended uses such as getting high, and may need treatment for prescription drug abuse in order to quit. Both misuse and abuse carry the risk of overdose, addiction and other health concerns.