Prescription Drug Abuse

Below are 4 important articles about Prescription Drug Abuse.  Please set aside the time to read all of it.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Have you noticed changes in your child’s behavior? Or does he or she have friends that you suspect might be abusing prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs? Whatever the reason – don’t ignore the issue at this critical time.

The problem is more common than many parents think. More teens are abusing prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. In 2008, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs.1 And among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drugs of choice.

Prescription Drug Dangers

Although teens are turning away from street drugs, now there’s a new threat and it’s from the family medicine cabinet: The abuse of prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.  Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense in addressing this troubling trend.

What’s the problem?

Teens are abusing some prescription and over-the-counter drugs to get high. This includes painkillers, such as those drugs prescribed after surgery; depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants, such as those drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Teens are also abusing over-the-counter drugs, such as cough and cold remedies.

Every day 2,500 youth age 12 to 17 abuse a pain reliever for the very first time. More teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. In 2008, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs.1 Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.2

Because these drugs are so readily available, and many teens believe they are a safe way to get high, teens who wouldn’t otherwise touch illicit drugs might abuse prescription drugs. And not many parents are talking to them about it, even though teens report that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep them away from drugs.3

What are the dangers?

There are serious health risks related to abuse of prescription drugs. A single large dose of prescription or over-the-counter painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulty that can lead to death. Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility or paranoia, or the potential for heart system failure or fatal seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment, and ability to learn.

The abuse of OTC cough and cold remedies can cause blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma, and even death. Many teens report mixing prescription drugs, OTC drugs, and alcohol. Using these drugs in combination can cause respiratory failure and death.

Prescription and OTC drug abuse is addictive. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 300 percent.4

A powerful 1 min video link- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health developed a new web-based Drug Policy App to explore how individual states are tackling the prescription drug overdose epidemic.


  1. 1.                   Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2009).
    National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2008
  2. 2.                   Ibid
  3. 3.                   Partnership for Drug-free America, Partnership Attitude Tracking Study [PATS] 2007
  4. 4.                   Treatment Episode Data Set [TEDS]. (2006). Substance abuse treatment admissions by primary substance of abuse according to sex, age group, race and ethnicity, 2004.
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Rx Danger Zones: The Search Starts at Home

Where are teens getting prescription drugs? Teens say they are readily available — in their own homes, from friends or relatives, and online pharmacies. Check these hot spots in your own home and neighborhood, and learn how to safeguard your prescriptions — and your teen.

Your Home

A teen may scout his own home first if he’s looking to get high from prescription or over-the-counter drugs. You can address this troubling trend by safeguarding and monitoring all of the medications in your house — whether they’re in your bathroom, bedroom, teen’s room, living room, kitchen, or garage.


        Counter: Keep all medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place — such as a locked cabinet — that you can monitor easily and that your teen cannot access.

Examples of over-the-counter and prescription drugs include Sudafed, Coricidin Cough and Cold (Triple C), and Viagra.

        Medicine cabinet: Think carefully about the pills that are in your family’s medicine cabinet. Do you have Vicodin for your bad back? Percocet for that recurring knee injury? Painkillers like these are the prescription drugs most likely to be abused by teens. If you think your child might be abusing painkillers, look for signs like constricted pupils, mood swings, personality changes, clumsiness, or drowsiness.

Examples of painkillers include OxyContin, Vicodin, and Tylenol with Codeine

        Toilet: For environmental reasons, never flush any medications down the toilet or drain, unless the prescription bottle specifically says you should.

        Trash can: If you have unneeded or expired medications, properly conceal and dispose of them by putting them in a bag or container, and mixing them with something unappealing, like kitty litter or coffee grounds. Then throw the bag in the trash. Also, remove any personal, identifiable information from prescription bottles or pill packages before you throw them away.

Parents’ Bedroom

        Bedside table: Remember that you are your child’s most important role model. If you are taking prescription or OTC drugs for sleep problems, explain to your teen why you are taking them, that you keep track of your dosages, and that it is not safe to use them without a medical provider’s approval.

Examples of common sleep aids include Ambien and Unisom.

Teen’s Bedroom

        Drawer: There is a fine line between respecting your teen’s privacy and keeping him or her safe. Be alert for signs that your teen is in trouble, such as empty medicine bottles or packages in his/her room. Also watch for signs such as secretiveness, withdrawal from friends and family, or trouble in school.

Packages to look for include Robitussin, NyQuil, Zantrax, Phentramine, and Ex-Lax.

        Backpack: While many students appropriately take stimulants prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), some teens are sharing these drugs with their friends to party or help them concentrate more in school. In fact, nearly one in four kids with a prescription for stimulant medication has been approached with offers to sell, give, or trade their drugs. If your teen has a prescription for stimulants, monitor dosage and the number of pills. Signs of stimulant abuse include anxiety, flushed skin, excessive energy, lack of sleep, irritability, or loss of appetite.

Examples of stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta.

ComputerMany Web sites provide detailed information on which prescription and OTC drugs — and how much of them — to take to get high, and for different effects. Teens often swap stories of their drug experiences and offer “tips” on social networking sites such as, which also may encourage risky behaviors. They can also surf the Internet for hundreds of pharmacies that sell prescription drugs without a prescription. Always monitor your teen’s time online, set limits and rules about which sites are okay to visit, and check Web site histories.

If you suspect your teen is abusing depressants, look for warning signs, including slurred speech, sleepiness, moodiness, forgetfulness, or disorientation.

Examples of depressants include Xanax and Valium.

Mom’s purseSet clear rules for teens about all drug use, including carefully following instructions and dosages, even for OTC products like pain relievers. If you set a good example in your approach to all medicines, you will instill good habits in your children.

Examples of OTC pain relievers include Tylenol, Advil, and Excedrin.


        Counter: While you might not see a reason for teens to abuse blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering medications, some teens might try any pills just to see what effect they will have, or trade for other pills. Always keep track of pill amounts, dosages, and the number of remaining refills. Be on alert for missing pills and talk with your teen right away if you suspect they’ve been taken.

Examples of blood pressure medications and statins include Diovan and Lipitor.

        Refrigerator: In addition to safeguarding your medications, be sure to monitor the number of beer cans, wine and other alcohol bottles, as well as whipped cream cans in your refrigerator. Teens can abuse these staples in combination with prescription drugs or street drugs, resulting in dire consequences.

Examples of alcohol and inhalants include beer, wine, and “whippets” or “whip hits” (nitrous oxide used in whipped cream dispensers as a propellant).


        Car: Teen drivers admit to engaging in increasingly risky driving behaviors, including taking drugs, drinking, and talking or text messaging on cell phones, which are more likely to cause crashes. Before your teen gets behind the wheel, talk about the dangers of drunk, drugged, and distracted driving.

        Storage: Sniffing or huffing ordinary household items is dangerous and can even result in death. Signs of an inhalant abuse problem include chemical odors on breath or clothing, drunk or disoriented appearance, slurred speech, and missing household items.

Examples of inhalants include computer screen cleaner, cooking spray, glue, and nailpolish remover

With FriendsTalk with the parents in other households your teen has access to about safeguarding medications. Discuss what you do in your own home and encourage them to take similar safety precautions. Specifically ask other parents not to give your child any medications without your permission. You could also coordinate with other parents to set up an “early warning system” to alert each other if you suspect something is going on.

Cell phoneTeens often get prescription and over-the-counter drugs from their friends. And with cell phones and PDAs, they are able to instantly message with friends and acquaintances about getting and partying with drugs.

Liquor cabinetSince many teens report mixing pills with alcohol and other drugs, it is important to set clear rules for your teen about all drugs, including never sharing, mixing, or taking someone else’s medicine.

Grandparents’ HouseGrandparents may be another source of prescription drugs for teens. In fact, 10 percent of teens say they took drugs from friends or relatives without asking. Talk to your extended family about your concerns and ask them to safeguard their medications.

        Pill box: Many seniors are on medications for chronic, long-term conditions and may not monitor pill amounts closely or throw away expired medications. Offer to help them take inventory and properly dispose of unused drugs.

School: Talk to school nurses, teachers, coaches, and counselors about teen prescription drug abuse to ensure they are aware of the problem and know the warning signs. Request that they notify you immediately if they notice anything unusual or suspect your teen is abusing prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

StoreSome stores and retail chains have started to keep cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM) behind the counter to help limit teen abuse of these drugs. But teens often get around this by store-hopping or taking turns buying these products. Be on the lookout for store receipts, empty bottles of cough syrup, cans of whipped cream, or pill packets among your teen’s things. Also be aware if they tend to hit the grocery store before heading out with friends.

Source: The Office of National Drug Control Policy


Effects of Prescription and OTC Drug Abuse

When taken properly and under a medical provider’s supervision, prescription drugs can have many benefits. Unfortunately, many teens are abusing these drugs to get high or for other effects. Teens say they are abusing prescription and OTC drugs because they are easy to get and they think they are a safe way to get high.

Why should parents care about this?

REASON #1: More teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug, except marijuana.1
Many young people wrongly believe that prescription and OTC drugs are safe to abuse, when in fact they can be just as risky as street drugs, if taken improperly.

REASON #2: Prescription and OTC drugs are easily accessible.

The vast majority of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends and relatives. In fact, more than half of teens who abuse prescription painkillers say they get them from friends or relatives, for free.2 Prescription and OTC drugs are easy to get at home, at a grandparent’s house, and even at school.

The Internet can also supply teens with prescription or OTC drugs. There are hundreds of Web sites that illegally sell drugs without a prescription. There are also many Web sites that teach teens which drugs to use to get high, how much to take, or how to mix drugs for certain effects. Teens can then venture out to the local grocery or drugstore to buy cough and cold medications, and put the dangerous new information they’ve learned online to use – risking significant health consequences.

REASON #3: Many teens believe it is safe to abuse prescription and OTC drugs.

About half of teens do not see great risk in abusing prescription drugs, and one-third of teens believe there is nothing wrong with using prescription drugs occasionally for non-medical reasons.3 Teens don’t understand that when abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be just as dangerous as street drugs.

REASON #4: Abuse of prescription drugs can be dangerous, even fatal.
Abusing prescription drugs like painkillers, depressants, or stimulants, can have tragic consequences, from serious injury to death. These are powerful drugs that can have unpredictable effects when abused. Teens often take prescription drugs with street drugs or alcohol, which only adds to the dangers, like breathing problems, seizures, or heart failure.

REASON #5: Prescription drug abuse can limit your teen’s potential.
Prescription and OTC drug abuse can ruin promising lives. Many of these drugs are addicting. Teens who first abuse prescription drugs before age 16 also have a greater risk of drug dependence or abuse later in life.4 Abuse of these drugs can interfere with your teen’s ability to learn and succeed in school. Prescription drug abuse is also illegal and can have serious consequences.

  1. 1.                   Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2009).
    National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2008
  2. 2.                   Ibid
  3. 3.                   Partnership for Drug-free America, Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) 2005
  4. 4.                   Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2009).
    National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2008


Why Teens Abuse Prescription and OTC Drugs

Teens report many reasons for abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Like with street drugs, prescription and OTC drugs are often abused by teens to get high. This might be to party, to escape reality, to experiment, or to relieve boredom.

But teens also say there are other reasons to abuse prescription drugs, beyond just getting high:1

  • Some teens say they abuse these drugs to help them cope, such as to manage stress, depression, or anxiety, or to help them relax.
  • Teens also report abusing prescription drugs to help them deal with pressures. For example, some teens say they abuse stimulants to help them do better in school by increasing alertness or concentration. Others report abusing stimulants to help control their weight.
  • Teens also report they are abusing these drugs to self-medicate, in order to do things like relieve pain or sleep better.

Teens also give other “practical” reasons for abuse of these drugs. For example, they say they abuse prescription painkillers because they believe it is not illegal, there is less shame attached to using them, there are fewer side effects than street drugs, and because some parents “don’t care as much if you get caught.”2

Talk to your teen about the risks of taking any medication without a doctor’s supervision. Prescription and OTC drugs are powerful and, when abused, can be just as dangerous as street drugs.