A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Prescription drug abuse in our children

graphic illustration of prescription drugsParents ask yourselves these questions: Who really takes prescribed medications in my home and would I know if any are missing?

Your answers could be quite telling.

Dr. James Meyer, an adolescent medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic, knows firsthand that teen prescription drug abuse is on the rise. Parents should be aware, especially if children are unsupervised.

Data for 2014 shows 24 percent – one in four – of teens use others’ prescription medications because they’re easier to get and either free or inexpensive. The majority of kids ages 12-17 who’ve abused pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives without their knowledge.

Narcotics, stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs are most-abused.

“Kids go to ‘pill parties’ with pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets. They combine them, take them, then say how they made them feel,” Meyer said. “If it’s a prescription drug, they think it couldn’t be too toxic.”

Most people addicted to narcotics, like heroin or morphine, first misused oxycontin or oral prescriptions. “Then, using heroin begins the slippery slope to a really ugly life,” Meyer said. “They feel great when they’re high. When they need another fix they feel miserable. They then drift into illegal acts like stealing money or property to pay for drugs.”

Some children do well in elementary and high school, but college may be another story. They may be challenged and then convince themselves attention deficit disorder is the reason for poor performance. They then may try others’ drugs.

Another issue is injury.

“There may be less pain with narcotics,” Meyer said, “but we’ve seen situations where heroin addiction started with an emergency situation treated with prescription drugs when heat, massage or topical anti-pain medicine may work. Though, it may not take pain completely to zero.”

Really knowing your kids can make a difference

Families’ lives are hectic and tough. “I see patients whose parents have several jobs,” he said. “Families can’t sit down and eat meals together, they don’t know their kids’ friends and may not really know their kids. Consequences are kids are less supervised.”

Dr. Meyer advises four Ws to help:

  1. Who – know who’s in your house and know your kids’ friends.
  2. What – know what’s going on in your home.
  3. When – know when kids are supposed to be home or at activities.
  4. Where – know where they plan to go; know the homes your kids spend time in

Other preventive steps

Clean out your medicine cabinet. Don’t flush medicines down the toilet or throw them in the trash. Instead, contact law enforcement or pharmacies for medication drop-off locations.

Know your children’s response to stress in this stressful world. If you see bad coping patterns – missing school, not doing chores – help them learn to better manage stress.

Be a good role model yourself. When times are tough, reach out to family, church, good friends. Your children will notice.

“Give praise, encourage good self-esteem,” he said. “Resilient kids can do well even in bad situations.”

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