I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has a teenage daughter. She was sharing with me information that she had learned at a program the high school had hosted for parents. The topic of the program was about drug abuse among teens. I was interested to learn that more teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana*. In 2006, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs*. Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.* What is most alarming is that it isn’t their own prescription drugs they are abusing…they could be using yours.

As seniors, my guess is that most of you have a host of pill bottles kept in various places in the house. Not one of us would want to think that our children or grandchildren would ever consider taking pills of any kind, but statistics show us that some of them do. Teens are abusing some prescription and over-the-counter drugs to get high. This includes painkillers, such as those drugs prescribed after surgery or to treat chronic pain; 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.

It is wise to make sure that your pill bottles are kept in a safe place…not on the kitchen table, or even in the medicine cabinet. Keep them in a location where you are apt to have an eye on them the majority of the time, but visitors wouldn’t readily see them…perhaps a kitchen cabinet or bedside table. If you are worried that a grandchild or a caregiver might be using pills, keep yours in a locked cabinet or strong box. Discard outdated or no longer used pills by emptying the pills into a disposable container and mixing the pills with something unappealing, like coffee grounds or kitty litter. Then throw the whole thing in the trash. It is no longer recommended that pills be flushed down the toilet, as this can cause harm to the environment. Make sure all labels with your identifying information are removed from the bottles.

Keep track of your pills. If you notice that you need refills before the expected date, someone could be taking pills out of the bottle without your knowledge. Keep track of your grandchildren and caregivers. Be concerned if you find them in places in the house where they shouldn’t be, where they could be looking for drugs. Again, not all teens are stealing drugs and not all teens are taking drugs. But some do, and as caring relatives, we should be concerned, and be aware of the risks.

You can learn more about teen abuse of prescription drugs at www.theantidrug.com or www.SAMHSA.gov.

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2007).
National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2006, Table 1.5A.*

Christina Forbes, LGSW from the Daybreak Newsletter 4/2009