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What’s in your medicine cabinet?
High at home
Signs of trouble


The best Rx
The best Rx

You can’t police your teen 24/7, but you can help him or her steer clear of prescription drug abuse with these measures:

  1. Be a good role model. Don’t pop a pill for every little ache and pain. Teach your children that medication is taken only when necessary and that all drugs have side effects. Talk to your kids about the effects of drug abuse and ways to handle peer pressure.
  2. Store prescription meds in a safe and locked place. Throw away unused and old medicine. The less access your child has to the drugs, the less likely he or she is to abuse them.
  3. Track online activity. Check what your child does online, what expenses he or she charges and what packages are sent to your home. Many prescriptions are purchased over the Internet.

When it comes to kids and drug use, you may hear a lot about Ecstasy, heroin and cocaine. But more kids report abusing a prescription painkiller than illicit street drugs, says the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Nearly one in five teens says he or she has tried Vicodin and one in 10 has used OxyContin, two potent prescription painkillers. Other oft-abused prescription medications include stimulants like Ritalin, antianxiety drugs like Xanax and sedatives and tranquilizers such as Valium. The problem is growing. The number of 12th graders who say they’ve used sedatives recreationally has nearly doubled in the last 15 years alone, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

High at home

Why the prescription popularity? For starters, easy access. The annual number of new painkiller prescriptions in the United States rose from about 400,000 in the mid-1980s to 2 million in 2000. Now kids don’t have to leave home to find them. When surveyed, most teen abusers said they found their drugs in their parents’ or friends’ medicine cabinets. And what they can’t find at home, they find online, even without a doctor’s prescription. What’s more, because these drugs come from a pharmacy and have medicinal purposes, many teens view prescription drugs as safer than street drugs. That thinking couldn’t be more wrong. Prescription drug abuse causes serious health and behavior consequences, including addiction, high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, paranoia, hostility, heart failure and death.

Signs of trouble

The signs of prescription drug addiction are similar to those of other substance-abuse problems. Watch for these red flags:

  • Personality changes. Does your child have severe mood swings? Has he or she recently become disrespectful, paranoid, confused, depressed or withdrawn? Does he or she swing between acting hyper and lethargic?
  • Physical disturbances. Watch for everything from lack of hygiene and grooming to changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
  • Changes in school performance and friends. Kids with drug problems often skip school, let grades slip and drop old friends and activities.

The most important step to take: Recognize the problem—and then seek help. Have your child evaluated by a physician to rule out any physical issues. Talk to teachers and school counselors about behavior they observe. And while your child will likely deny a drug problem, talk to him or her anyway. If you get nowhere, see a professional with experience diagnosing drug abuse and ask your doctor about treatment programs.