As a medical toxicologist, I see the effects of prescription pain medication abuse in teens and young adults on a daily basis. As a parent of a 10 and 12 year old, I worry about their future, peer pressure, and possibly their own involvement with medication abuse in junior high and high school.
Prescription drug abuse, especially narcotic medications, continues to be an ongoing and increasing problem in the U.S. There are several surveys and databases that look at prescription drug abuse; a few of them include:
- Monitoring the Future
- Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS)
- CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
- Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN)
- RADARS system
- National Poison Data System (NPDS)
Out of these programs and others come some pretty killer and potentially killer statistics:
- Deaths from prescription pain medicines have increased over 300 percent in the past decade
- According to a recent MetLife Foundation sponsored study, prescription drug abuse among teens is higher than the abuse of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin combined.
- Over 50 percent of teens believe that these medications are easily obtained from the family’s medication cabinet.
If 50 percent of teens believe access to these drugs is in the home, then part of the solution may lie there as well. What can people do to reduce this public health threat in their own house?
1. Changing the way teens and parents interact:
- According to the PATS study, less than 25 percent of teens report that parents had talked to them about prescription drug abuse compared to ~80 percent for marijuana and alcohol.
- In the same study, when parents were surveyed, 22 percent of parents thought it was ok to give their teen a prescription drug not prescribed to them (reasons include: injury, menstrual cramps, insomnia, anxiety or depression). Parental attitudes can shape their children’s attitude with regard to prescription medication. These are powerful drugs and are considered controlled substances by the FDA; the side effects and downsides should be respected.
2. Removing the source:
- When the medical need for a prescription pain medication has passed, it is best to discard any unused portions as soon as possible so that is does not become a source of abuse. Ways to accomplish this include:
- Prescription take back programs in your community
- If no take back programs are available in a timely manner, one can also dispose of medications in the trash by following these steps:
- Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds
- Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag
- Throw the container into the household trash
- Go to your local Walgreens or CVS pharmacy and inquire about their individual drug take back program.
- For certain drugs with a high abuse potential or those in which one pill/dose can kill, the FDA has an approved list of drugs for immediate flushing.
3. Reducing the amount of medication prescribed:
- Physicians will often prescribe a week’s worth of pills even if only a day or two might be needed in order to save the patient the inconvenience of returning to the pharmacy. However if you think there might be left-over medication, or if you live in a home where the medication might be misdirected, it may be prudent to ask for a smaller amount with a couple of refills. Instead of 30 pills of Acetaminophen/Hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin, Norco, etc), ask for 10 pills with 2 refills. For short term acute pain relief needs, this will limit the amount of unneeded medication remaining in the home.
Why is this being written now? According to a recent paper “Intentional Coricidin Product Exposures in Illinois Adolescents”, teen abuse of this cough and cold preparation spikes in the fall during the back to school season. Based on these findings, it is reasonable to assume that in the next few weeks a spike in prescription medication abuse will be seen as well.
So besides books, binders, pens, and pencils . . . back to school time should also include cleaning out the cabinet of all prescription medications that are no longer needed. By removing the most common source/supply, the problem of teen prescription drug abuse can be lessened considerably.
Till next Tuesday,