Thursday, May 21, 2009

A New Kind Of High

I’ve been writing this blog for six months and not once have I really talked about teens and drugs. Since I mostly write from my own experiences with my teenager, that means we don’t have any drug issues over at our house. And that’s a GREAT thing. I feel blessed.

In other households, however, it’s a different story. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, there is a growing number of teenagers who are abusing prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to get high or to cope with school and social pressures.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that every day, 2,000 kids, ages 12 to 17, abuse a painkiller for the very first time. And that among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.

Who would have guessed??

I’m sure you have all sorts of questions about this disturbing trend among teens. To provide some answers, has teamed up with pharmacist Karen Reed, spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association, in this Q & A:

Q: Kids are taking uppers, downers, painkillers, etc., that have been prescribed for their parents. What can those drugs do to teens who have not been prescribed those medications?

A: It’s always difficult to predict what type of reaction teens will have to medication not prescribed for them, especially when we don't know the dose they will abuse -- and if it will be taken with other drugs or alcohol. Uppers can cause hostility, paranoia or seizures. These drugs can affect motor skills, impair judgment, and affect the heart. Downers and painkillers can decrease concentration, impair judgment, and slow motor skills. Taking downers and painkillers in excess can also cause sedation and seizures. Imagine a teen driver under the influence of these drugs driving a motor vehicle -- this combination could prove deadly, as well.

Q: Kids take pills that aren’t theirs and sometimes when they’re drinking alcohol. What is the resulting effect?

A: No one, adults or teens, should take medication with alcohol. Teens who are taking medication that is not prescribed for them are probably also taking excessive doses. And mixing that medication with alcohol could prove deadly for teenagers. The effect of the medication could be intensified, causing the teen to stop breathing or have a seizure that could be fatal. If this practice is combined with driving, others could be injured, as well. The combination of medication and alcohol could lead to poor judgment that could cause serious injuries or worse. Teenagers often feel invincible. The combination of drugs and alcohol may intensify this belief.

Q: What is the best way to monitor cold, cough, and other over-the-counter medications in the house?

A: Keep them in limited quantities and monitor their use as you would a prescription drug. Never use them to help your teen or yourself sleep. Children (regardless of their age) mimic adult behavior. Be a good role model and never abuse OTC products yourself.

Q: What if a teenager has prescribed medications she takes regularly. How do you ensure those pills are not abused?

A: Keep track of the number of pills that should be on hand. Keep track of refills, lost pills, and request for refills. Paying close attention to use will help prevent abuse.

Q: What are some of the signs to look for if you suspect your teen has been abusing prescription drugs?

A: It’s easy for parents to miss prescription drug abuse because mood changes, temper outbursts, changes in sleeping habits and interests are typical teenage behaviors. You can smell alcohol and tobacco and marijuana -- you can’t smell pills.

Watch for changes in grooming, habits and interests. Watch for negative changes in school work, school attendance, and declining grades. Watch for increased secrecy, changes in friends and increased needs for money. Monitor your own prescription drugs and encourage friends and family to do the same.

Karen L. Reed is the national spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association.

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