Monthly Archives: September 2007

What’s Driving Teens To Abuse Prescription Drugs?

There is a new and disturbing trend parents need to know about. Teens are abusing prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in an effort to get high – the same kind of high obtained from illegal street drugs like marijuana or cocaine.

Teens and substance abuse experts say that there are many different reasons for the rise in prescription drug abuse by young people. As discussed in “The Changing Face of Teenage Drug Abuse: The Trend Toward Prescription Drugs” in 2006 New England Journal of Medicine, there is a misperception that prescription and OTC drugs are medically safer, and therefore the abuse of such drugs in order to get high is not as bad as abusing street drugs.

Teens also point to personal or family-related stress as another major reason why they abuse prescription drugs. Other reasons include:

* Escape and boredom
* Preservation of friendships, romantic relationships, and family life
* Competing for college admission, including competition for Advanced Placement and Honors courses in high school
* The balance between school work, grades, and extracurricular activities like sports and clubs; and,
* The desire to have the “ideal” physical appearance.

Some students try to dial down the pressure by abusing painkillers and sedatives. Teens are also abusing stimulants, such as Ritalin, a drug used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These teens don’t realize that prescription drugs, if used outside doctor’s orders, can pack a very hard – sometimes lethal – punch. They can be just as addictive as street drugs and abuse can create similar health effects, such as paranoia, seizures, and cardiac arrest. Many people don’t realize the harm associated with prescription drugs until it is too late.

Talk to your teen about the dangers of abusing prescription and OTC drugs, and educate yourself on signs and symptoms of abuse. Follow the tips below to prevent prescription and over-the-counter abuse among teens:

1. Keep Track of Quantities: Take note of how many pills are in a bottle or pill packet and ask other households your teen visits (such as grandparents or friends) to do the same. Don’t forget about refills. If you find you have to refill medication for a chronic condition more often than recommended, there could be a real problem – as someone may be knowingly stealing your medication.

2. Talk to Friends, Relatives and School Administration: Make sure your friends and relatives know about the risks, too, and encourage them to regularly monitor their own medicine cabinets. If you don’t know the parents of your child’s circle of friends, then make an effort to get to know them, and get on the same page about rules and expectations. Follow up with your teen’s school administration to find out what they are doing to address issues of Rx and OTC drug abuse on campus.

3. Follow Directions Carefully: Make sure you and your teen use RX drugs only as prescribed by a medical doctor and take only the recommended dosages as indicated for both Rx and OTC drugs. If you are directed to finish the prescription, then do so as advised. If you have any questions about how to take a prescription drug, call your family physician or pharmacist.

4. Discard Old or Unused Medications: Unused prescription drugs should be disposed of in the trash. It is best to add an undesirable substance (like used coffee grounds or kitty litter) and put the mixture in an impermeable, non-descript container like an empty can or bag. Unless the directions say otherwise, DO NOT flush medications down the drain or toilet because the chemicals can taint the water supply. Also, remove any personal, identifiable information from prescription bottles or pill packages before you throw them away.

5. Be Observant: If you find your teen is quickly going through cough syrup, or you find empty bottles and pill packages among your child’s personal effects, talk with him/her, listen carefully, and determine if there is a problem. If there is a problem, call your family physician immediately.

6. Find Other Ways to Relieve Stress and Have Fun:
Many teens point to personal and family stress, as well as boredom, as reasons they abuse Rx and OTC drugs. Help your teen find other ways to relieve pressures, for example through positive activities that interest your child, positive friendships, or by simply listening and offering guidance. Also, help your teen find constructive ways to pass time and set a good example yourself.

The above information from, is brought to you by the South Bay Coalition and the Manhattan Beach Police Department. The South Bay Coalition ( is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. If you would like a copy of the South Bay Coalition’s Parent’s Guide To Preventing Substance Abuse, please visit our website or email: