A few years ago, I wrote about a dangerous teen trend known as pharming parties. Prescription drugs are still the easiest drugs for teenagers to get a hold of. You probably have prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet as your read this post.
Today, I have a young man, who is willing to share his story about his use of drugs.
As a teen, I used lots of drugs. I knew I was doing wrong when I ingested cocaine, but when my friends brought their mother’s prescription pain killers to school, I thought little of taking them. I can’t even say I knew the real name of the drugs, yet I would swallow them without the slightest hesitation. What followed was a blacked-out school day and health risks. Ultimately, my high school use led to full blown heroin addiction and dropping out of college. Looking back on the issue of prescription abuse, I see how my path could have been directed in a healthier direction. Parents better understanding of what their kids are really up against in the high school drug scene gives them greater opportunity to help their teens.
Among students who are 12 to 17 years old, 7.7-percent reported prescription drug abuse last year. According to the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the third most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders following alcohol and pot. The most commonly used drugs are pain relievers (such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin), central nervous system depressants (Xanax, Valium), and stimulants (Ritalin and Adderall). Teens are also abusing over-the-counter cough suppressants containing DXM (dextromethorphan). Students who report prescription abuse are also more likely to report street drug abuse; making medications a less known “gateway drug.” Teens use these drugs for a number of reasons, including to get high, to treat pain, or because they think it will help them with their school work. Prescription drugs are misunderstood by teens and parents; making their use particularly dangerous.
Prescription drugs are not safer than street drugs. Prescription drug abuse occurs whenever someone takes a drug prescribed to someone else or in a larger than recommended dose. Prescription opioids work the same way as heroin in the brain and overdose can cause respiratory arrest and death. Drugs like DXM land many high school students in the hospital. Abusing any mind-altering chemical can affect judgement and inhibition and may put teens at risk for STDs or car accidents. Abusing prescription drugs is illegal and carries the same legal penalties as street drugs. Parents have more influence over prescription meds than street drugs.
Parents might unknowingly be the source of these drugs. Teens get their prescription pills from relatives or friends more often than from drug dealers. In a survey, 54-percent of high school seniors said that opioid drugs other than heroin (Vicodin) would be easy for them to get. Keeping tabs on prescriptions at home helps, however prescribed drugs can still be found in almost any American medicine cabinet. Despite the drugs’ rampant availability, parents can support their teens by informing them of dangers and creating a safe environment for communication.
When I was younger, I feared talking to my mother about drug use in my school. My parents had an unrealistic perspective of my world; they knew what they thought my world should be instead of what it really was. Drugs are a big part of teen life. If your kid isn’t doing drugs, they at least know someone who is trying them. Many kids are prescribed drugs for ADD (Ritalin, Adderall) and share them with their friends. Drugs are seen as cool by many students. Try to empathize with the dual nature of drugs in a high school kid’s brain. Society at large knows that drugs are bad, but the high school atmosphere sees substances much differently; putting kids in limbo. A parent cannot fully understand or be with their child every step of the way, but they can stay as close as possible.
Adolescence is a time when mistakes can be made in a relatively safe space if parental support is implemented. As a teen, I feared my mother’s reaction to honesty about my drug use, so I completely hid it from her and ended up in a lot of scary situations with no adult to help me out. My path could have been different if I hadn’t feared condemnation for the experimentation I’d done. It’s tricky, because no parent wants to approve of their child’s drug use, but you can have compassion for your kid’s difficult position. Deep down, teens want to please their parents. Express to your teen what you know about prescription drug abuse and ask them what issues they’re aware of or confused about. Inviting the discussion before trouble arises will create a safe place in the home for your child to visit if the day comes when they are tempted to abuse prescriptions.
“Facts on Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs” from the NIDA U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.