Prescription Drugs: What Parents Need to Know

Talking to your child about the dangers of prescription drugs can be a difficult topic to discuss. As a parent of two boys I understand the struggles of just getting them to open up about their day and who they are “hanging” out with. It is shocking to hear but a recent survey found that only 22% of teens today report discussing the risks of abusing any prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription with their parents. While it may be a rough topic to bring up, it is vital that you speak with your child or young adult about the dangers of prescription drugs before they hear about them from their friends. Current statistics show that one in five seniors in high school has abused a prescription drug by the time they graduate high school! It is estimated that each day in America an average of 2,000 teens abuse a prescription drug for the very first time.

Today’s youth are under the impression that all prescription drugs are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor and come in regulated doses. They are right there on their parent’s medicine shelves so how could they be dangerous?  Unfortunately, this misguided belief draws more and more youth to try prescription drugs each year without realizing that under certain circumstances the prescription drugs they are abusing are just as dangerous for their health and wellbeing as street drugs. When prescription drugs are abused, taken in combination with alcohol or other substances or ingested in a way contrary to the directions on the container … severe consequences are likely to take place; anything from dependence, slower brain activity, irregular heartbeats, dangerously high body temperature, heart failure, even strokes and seizures.

As a parent, if you don’t know what signs or symptoms to look for regarding prescription drug abuse then you might miss them all together. Common signs and symptoms of prescription opioid painkillers include: constipation, depression, low blood pressure, decreased breathing rate, confusion, sweating, and poor coordination. Signs and symptoms of prescription sedatives and anti-anxiety medications include: drowsiness, confusion, unsteady walking, poor judgment, involuntary and rapid movement of the eyeball and dizziness. The common signs and symptoms of prescription stimulant abuse include: weight loss, agitation, irritability, insomnia, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, restlessness and impulsive behavior. Additional signs of prescription drug abuse among teens include stealing, excessive mood swings or hostility, an increase or decrease in sleep, poor decision making and appearing to be “high” either energetic/revved up or sedated.

America’s youth are abusing prescription medications as well as over the counter drugs such as cough syrups. These substances are being abused because they are easily accessible, harder to detect by parents and simpler to hide. Teens are getting prescription drugs from their own parent’s medicine cabinets, the homes of their relatives or friends and even for sale from some drug dealers.

For many young adults, prescription drug abuse has become a gateway into the abuse of “harder” street drugs. A person who abuses and becomes addicted to a drug such as OxyContin may eventually switch to using heroin because it is cheaper. Recently, the University of Buffalo conducted a study, the results showed that 92% of the drug users who abused heroin were doing so because they had first become addicted to OxyContin and had switched to heroin.

Speak openly with the children you care for about prescription drugs. Instill in them the fact that they need to respect the power of prescription drugs and choose to use these substances properly. Explain that ALL medications, including prescription drugs have RISKS when taken along with their benefits; and that these risks increase when the mediation is abused. Be sure that the young adult in your life understands that it is their responsibility to only take their prescription medications and to do so safely and appropriately. Lastly, if they recognize that they or a friend has a problem with prescription drugs or any other substance they need to speak up and seek help right away so that the problem does not escalate.


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