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With the amount of information available to us these days, we might think we know enough about teenage prescription drug abuse to keep our kids safe. Perhaps to a certain extent, we are indeed well informed but substance abuse is one social problem we cannot afford to be complacent about. Constant vigilance is the order of the day. Are we still updated? Are we aware of what kids these days may be in danger of getting their hands on? Check out the following list of important things to know about teenage prescription drug abuse (not in any particular order).

Between 1998 and 2008 prescription drug abuse went up 400%. Prescription drugs are simply very easy to get. Doctors are writing prescriptions left and right. Left-over prescription pills end up lying around in the house, within easy access of every family member and their friends who come to visit. In fact, this is how 70% of all prescription drug abusers get them; from friends and relatives. One out of every six teenagers said they have taken a prescription drug at least once in the past year (just for kicks). Another recent survey reports that 15% of all high school seniors have used prescription drugs for nonmedical use and that Vicodin is the top pharm drug of choice.

Nip it in the bud

Parents should not be too ready to dismiss instances of their child’s early experimentation with alcohol and/or marijuana. They are called “gateway drugs”. Kids who are drunk or high on marijuana at a party are less likely to exercise good judgment when presented with pills that somebody swiped from their medicine cabinets at home. Parents should know that the younger their kids get introduced to substance use, the higher the likelihood of developing dependence as they enter adulthood.

Proper prescription management

Proper management of medications can prevent the illicit use of prescription drugs. Always know how many pills there are supposed to be at any particular time and know exactly when a refill is due. Running out of pills way before the expected time is a sure indication that somebody else in the household is using them. Kids should have no access to their parents’ or other siblings’ prescription medications. These pills should be locked away and not left lying around on kitchen counters etc. If any of the kids have been prescribed a medication, the parents should closely monitor their intake. Even OTC drugs need to be monitored, like cough syrup containing dextromethorphan.

Proper disposal of leftover medication

Any and all leftover meds should be disposed of properly. Some teens have been known to check the trash for discarded medication, so parents need to be more careful how they get rid of unwanted prescription pills. Remember to remove the labels from prescription bottles to prevent unauthorized refills.

Educate yourself

Prescription drugs can be categorized into the following:

Stimulants – typically prescribed as a treatment for ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity. Examples are Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine).

CNS depressants – central nervous system meds that alleviate sleeplessness and anxiety. These include Nembutal (pentobarbital sodium), Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam).

Opioids – are morphine-like meds for pain treatment. Examples are OxyContin (oxycodone), Darvon (propoxyphene), Demerol (meperidine), Lomotil (diphenoxylate), Vicodin (hydrocodone) and Dilaudid (hydromorphone).

Keep up with the times

Be familiar with the current buzzwords that kids use to refer to prescription drugs. Understanding prescription drug lingo can help alert responsible adults to whatever the kids around them are up to. For example, when teenagers talk about “dollies” they are probably not referring to the latest Barbie. They really mean methadone. “Schoolboy” does not mean that cute new kid on the block, it’s their code for codeine, and “Miss Emma” is not some respectable music teacher, it is actually morphine. Following is a list of street names to watch out for:

  • Stimulants or uppers or “pep pills”
  • Dexies or Des for Dexadrine
  • Peaches
  • Hearts
  • Black Hollies
  • Bennies for Benzedrine
  • Black beauties
  • Depressants or downers or ludes/barbs/”drunk pills”
  • Goofballs
  • Reds or red devils
  • Yellowjackets
  • Rainbows
  • Pinks
  • Blue devils
  • Blues or V’s for Valium

If they are talking about any combination of these uppers and downers, they will be referring to it as a “set up”.

Protect our kids by talking to them

Engage teens in family discussions (not lectures) about the risks of prescription drug abuse. Surveys indicate that parents tend to talk less about the abuse of prescription medications compared to illegal drugs. Kids need to understand that prescription drug abuse is just as dangerous. Just because these pills came from medical doctors it does not make them any less harmful when used improperly. Those who do not pay attention to their own attitude towards using over-the-counter and prescription drugs without a proper prescription are sending the wrong message to their own kids.  Kids should be made to understand that it is never safe to experiment with any kind of medication and that the risks are magnified when these drugs are mixed with alcohol. Give them an “action plan” to be used if/when they are offered drugs in school or at a party and practice it with them if necessary.

Peer factor

Never underestimate the power of peer pressure. Kids often have an overwhelming need to belong and would often do things against their better judgment when faced with a challenge from friends as a show of loyalty. It is always a good idea to get to know your kids’ friends and become friends with them and their families as well.

Warning signs

Drug abuse is never without warning signs. Parents just need to be aware what to look for:

  • If their teenagers suddenly have a new set of friends it wouldn’t hurt to ask about the old ones;

  • If school performance suddenly becomes erratic when they used to do consistently well before;

  • If they lose interest in their usual extra-curricular activities and hobbies

  • If they become paranoid, overly aggressive or defensive about their things and their activities

  • If their grooming habits change; they reek of alcohol/marijuana or become heavy users of mouthwash or perfumes to mask the smell of alcohol/marijuana

  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain marked a change in sleeping and eating habits

  • If they begin borrowing or stealing money

  • If they start frequenting the doctor’s clinic for various medical issues to ask for new prescriptions

Act fast

If you spot warning signs, it is best to act on them fast before things get worse. Adolescent brains are still developing and this process gets arrested by early exposure to alcohol or prescription drugs or illegal drugs. Long-term health consequences are never good and are best prevented from progressing. Acting fast does not mean forcing your child to take a drug test just because they start hanging out with someone you don’t know. Acting fast, in this case, means asking about this new friend right away, not after several weeks when your child is already exhibiting some behavioral changes.