Friday, April 30, 2010

Generation Rx: The Threat in the Medicine Chest

 "Not in MY school!" 

This is what many students say to voice their denial of the problem.  When two Pottsgrove High School students overdosed on prescription medications and were taken by ambulance to the local hospital last week, many in our community were shocked and cried out for something to be done about the fact that "there is clearly a drug problem" in the high school. 

The truth is, when we take a closer look, the facts about such incidents are downright sobering.  According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly one in five students report abusing prescription medications to get high. What's more, by their Sophomore year in college, approximately 50% of students report being offered or having the opportunity to use prescription drugs.

Some teens are even taking the next step by snorting, injecting or mixing these medications with alcohol.  Teens often attend "pharming" parties where they take potentially lethal combinations of pills, most of which they do not even know what they are taking. The age group from 12 - 25 have the highest rate of drug abuse.

Scary?  Absolutely. Hopeless? Tough, but not hopeless.  There are things you can do to help your teen navigate through the peer pressure and avoid making a costly decision by saying "It's just one or two pills".

1.  Many teens find it surprisingly easy to access their parents' supply of pain medication or other medications. 

What can you do?   Properly dispose of leftover medications when they are no longer needed. Oxycontin, Vicoden or Percocet are three of the most commonly abused pain medications, and they are often available right at home in the medicine cabinet.  People often keep the leftovers around "just in case" long after their injury or illness is healed. Contact your local pharmacist to find out how to safely dispose of these medications. When we are prescribed these potent painkillers, they are very effective when taken as directed. Taking these pills when they are not necessary is not only dangerous, it's illegal.

2. Ritalin or Adderall are popular stimulant medications used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some children are selling their medications to peers in school who, with increasing frequency due to the faster, more intense “high”, are crushing and snorting them.

What can you do?  Be sure that their teens are taking their medications, as prescribed. Providing oversight and education regarding the seriousness of these medications is crucial in helping teens learn to be responsible consumers.

3.  Xanax or Ativan are common medications used to treat anxiety. They are also highly addictive and dangerous.

What can you do?  Ensure that your medications are properly secured and kept in a safe location. Teens often find it very easy to take a couple of pills from their parents supply or from their friend's pocketbook or locker.

4. Educate, discuss, discuss, discuss (and, oh, did I say discuss?).....

What can you do?   Keep the lines of communication open - wide open.  This open dialogue between you and your teen cannot be overstated. Teach your teens how to resist peer pressure while saving face. And, most importantly, educate them about the seriousness of drug abuse.  Many parents believe that their teens tell them everything, but the reality is that most teens will not initiate discussion about difficult topics like drug abuse, peer pressure and sexuality.

5. Know the signs of intoxication and drug abuse.

What can you do? Be alert for any sudden changes in personality, increased irritability, bloodshot eyes, lethargy, and changes in social group. Sudden decreased interest in activities or increases in health complaints are also signs that there could be a problem.

Help is available. Take it seriously. Don't be afraid to ask.
For more information visit

A helpful pamphlet from SAMHSA is available here:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rage on the Road: Does Counting to 10 Really Work?

The typical day: I am making my typical drive down Route 422 between Armand Hammer Boulevard and King of Prussia, I reach the Collegeville/Phoenixville area, and the brake lights come on. Traffic. Sigh. Inevitably there are other drivers who tailgate, and when I leave the suggested amount car lengths between my car and the vehicle in front of me, someone cuts in front of me. I feel my heart rate increase, and my hands clench the steering wheel...Deep Breath...Deep Breath.

This scene is, no doubt, repeated in thousands of vehicles every day. The reaction to this scenario varies from person to person, but the fact remains that there are many who cannot cope with the stress of congested traffic or other daily sources of stress. The issue was thrust into the spotlight last week when John Andrew Yannarel shot a woman on Route 422, triggering a chain of events that ultimately led to his suicide. This incident highlights the phenomenon of "road-rage," a state that can bring even the most calm and patient driver to behave in uncharacteristic ways. In fact, many high-anger drivers identify themselves as aggressive drivers or road-rage junkies, engaging in yelling profanities, honking their horn wildly, making obscene gestures, or driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic.

Unfortunately, for John Yannarell, other issues may have compounded this tendency, and exaggerated what, for many, would simply be a long drive on Route 422. In Yannarell's case, alleged pre-existing issues involving anger and substance abuse may have contributed to his extreme emotional reaction when faced with a high stress situation. The bad news is that there are other drivers on the road who are less-than-courteous and behave badly. The good news is that relaxation and changing the way we view stress can help decrease the effects of this stress on drivers.

Here are some simple relaxation tips that you can do every day to help decrease the effect of stress....

1. Decrease the likelihood of becoming stressed by taking proactive strategies to lessen your odds of becoming stressed. For example, be sure your car has enough gas, you've had enough sleep, a good breakfast, and you leave in ample time so you are not stressed about missing that 9am meeting. If you are on "E" and were up half the night working on a proposal, your mental energy is low, and you are more likely to become angry when that person cuts you off.

2. Bring something along that you enjoy, such as books on tape or your favorite music. When the traffic backs up, switch over to calm and soothing music.

3. Research shows that taking that deep breathe really does decrease the level of agitation you feel when you are angry. When we are agitated, we have what is known as a "fight or flight" response. When you are sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, you can't do either. When explaining this to patients, I often liken this to our primitive reflex to flee when faced with a saber-toothed tiger. On 422, there is no tiger to fight, and no way out.

4. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation can help lessen the tension we feel, decreasing headaches and sore muscles resulting from tension. I often don't realize that my shoulders are up next to my ears until I take a deep breath and release my shoulders.

5. Substance abuse or untreated emotional issues can cause us to react in extreme ways. If you are having trouble managing your anger or other emotions, ask for help.


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