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:


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