The path to drug abuse is changing. A generation or two ago, drug dealers had to be discovered through word of mouth after the user’s initial experimentation and willingness to pay money. Now getting high may start with a simple stroll to the bathroom to see what kinds of medications have been forgotten in the medicine cabinet. With an increase in the numbers of prescriptions for painkillers and medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there have also been significant increases in cases of abuse of these drugs.
A popular trend among young people is to raid a family member’s medicine before a party, bringing pills to be mixed with others for a unique experience. What many teens do not understand, however, is that mixing prescription drugs can be dangerous, with unpredictable reactions that can be life-threatening.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the age group that misuses the most prescription drugs are young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Thirteen percent of this age group abuse pain relievers, ADHD medication and anti-anxiety drugs compared to seven percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and four percent of those over the age of 26.
Of the 10 most misused drugs by high school seniors, seven are legally available by being over-the-counter or prescription drugs, including amphetamines, tranquilizers and ADHD drugs. The latter are a popular choice for misuse among students who use Adderall or Ritalin as “study drugs” for pronounced levels of alertness as well as eliminating the need for sleep for multiple days. In addition, these drugs are cheap and easily available — even if a student does not have a prescription, they generally know someone that does.
Many teens wrongly assume that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs because they’re initially issued by a doctor. However, prescription drug use can be deadly and each medication carries specific warnings. When students mix these medications with other drugs, they may experience dangerous side effects.
Parents may also be uninformed about the dangers of prescription drugs. Many parents allow their children access to medications, not monitoring their use in any way. They may not realize that their child is engaging in illegal activities when they share ADHD medication.
Besides closely monitoring and locking up medications that are lying around, all medications should be locked up. Rather than leaving medications in the medicine cabinet where heat and moisture can affect their consistency and effectiveness, drugs should be moved to a high bedroom closet shelf in a locked box. Parents can also talk with their children’s grandparents and other relatives where their kids spend time and recommend that medications not be left unattended so that their teenage child will not be tempted to sneak painkillers or other drugs.
Young adults can also purchase drugs online where they’re marketed as if they are legitimately being sold for other purposes. Parents should be aware of the websites their teens and young adults are visiting and what they’re doing there.
Most importantly, parents need to talk with their kids about prescription drug misuse. Teens need to be educated about the risks and dangers that are associated with prescription drug misuse. Parents should make their wishes clear and set up rules and consequences so their children will make informed decisions when they are given the opportunity to try a prescription drug recreationally.
Parents may be tempted to doubt their influence when it comes to substance use and their teen or young adult, but studies have shown that the single most important factor in whether a young person experiments with drugs is the influence of their parents. Teens whose parents talk freely about their desire for their child to remain alcohol and drug free are more likely to abstain from substance use.