Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

What are prescription drugs?

Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription from a doctor or dentist. There are three kinds of prescription drugs that are commonly misused:

  • Opioids — used to relieve pain
  • Depressants — used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep
  • Stimulants — used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Prescription drug misuse has become a large public health problem, because misuse can lead to addiction, and even overdose deaths.

What Makes Prescription Drug Misuse Unsafe

Every medication has some risk for harmful effects, sometimes serious ones. Doctors and dentists consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications and take into account a lot of different factors, described below. When prescription drugs are misused, they can be just as dangerous as drugs that are made illegally.

Personal Information

Before prescribing a drug, health providers consider a person's weight, how long they've been prescribed the medication, other medical conditions, and what other medications they are taking. Someone misusing prescription drugs may overload their system or put themselves at risk for dangerous drug interactions that can cause seizures, coma, or even death.

Form and Dose

Doctors know how long it takes for a pill or capsule to dissolve in the stomach, release drugs to the blood, and reach the brain. When misused, prescription drugs are sometimes taken in larger amounts or in ways that change the way the drug works in the body and brain, putting the person at greater risk for an overdose. For example, when people who misuse OxyContin® crush and inhale the pills, a dose that normally works over the course of 12 hours hits the central nervous system all at once. This effect increases the risk for addiction and overdose.

Side Effects

Prescription drugs are designed to treat a specific illness or condition, but they often affect the body in other ways, some of which can be uncomfortable, and in some cases, dangerous. These are called side effects.  Side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or are used in combination with other substances. See more on side effects below.

How can we stop prescription drug abuse?

What Can I Do to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse?

  1. Properly store medications by locking them in a secure area.
  2. Dispose of old, expired, or unused medications properly.
  3. Educate yourself and your family.
  4. If someone you know might have a problem, seek help.

How Prescription Drugs are Misused

  • Taking someone else’s prescription medication, even if it is for a medical reason (such as to relieve pain, to stay awake, or to fall asleep).
  • Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed—for instance, taking more than the prescribed dose or taking it more often, or crushing pills into powder to snort or inject the drug. 
  • Taking your own prescription in a way that it is not meant to be taken is also misuse. This includes taking more of the medication than prescribed or changing its form—for example, breaking or crushing a pill or capsule and then snorting the powder.
  • Taking the prescription medication to get “high.” 
  • Mixing it with alcohol or certain other drugs. Your pharmacist can tell you what other drugs are safe to use with specific prescription drugs. 

If you or a friend are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, please call: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by).

If you want to help a friend, you can:

  • Share resources from this site, including this page.
  • Encourage your friend to speak with a trusted adult.

If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.

How can over the counter drug abuse be prevented?

Keep medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place such as a locked cabinet, not in an unlocked medicine cabinet.

Encourage friends, family and parents of your teen's friends to lock up their medications or keep them in a safe place.

Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though you may feel your child pulling away, eager for more independence, deep down they still want you involved. A strong bond with your child, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol and drug use.

Stay Involved

Staying involved and keeping tabs on teens’ activities — both online and off — can be another way of demonstrating that you care and can help develop a stronger parent-teen relationship. This is especially true if you communicate the reason why you’re interested in their actions and whereabouts. It’s important to stress that it’s not to be nosy or intrusive, but rather because you’re interested and care about them.

Parents often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when raising teens. It’s a delicate balance respecting your child’s growing independence while still needing to set rules and boundaries. Finding the right balance requires effective communication, making constant adjustments and staying in touch with what’s going on in their life.

Some tips to make keeping tabs a seamless part of the routine:

  • Share some quality in-person time — without the distraction of electronic devices — whenever you can: during meals, a walk, while you’re in the car, or simply hanging around at home together.
  • Ask specific questions about their day but convey interest and curiosity, rather than making it feel like an interrogation: “Who’d you have lunch with today?”, “How was soccer practice?”, “What’s planned for play rehearsal tonight?”
  • When friends are over, pop in to meet them or say hello, and check in periodically.
  • Talk to their friends’ parents. If you don’t know them yet, introduce yourself the next time there’s an opportunity. You can email them, text or call to say hello.
  • Ask teachers, coaches and other caring adults in your child’s life how they are doing in school or with extracurricular activities.
  • Connect with the school as a volunteer or in other school-sponsored activities.
  • Check in on online and phone activities, especially social media, which also includes having passwords and scanning apps from time to time.

Your teen may push back, but that’s no reason to back off. Help them understand that you’re involved because you love and want what’s best for them, not because of a lack of trust.

Find Opportunities For Real Conversation

Keep in mind that teens say that when it comes to substances, their parents are the most important influence. That’s why it’s important to talk — and listen — to your teen. So, try to talk. A lot.

Discuss the negative effects of nicotine, alcohol and drugs. Clearly communicate that you do not want your teen using substances. Talk about the short- and long-term effects drugs and alcohol can have on their mental and physical health, safety and ability to make good decisions. Explain to your child that experimenting with drugs or alcohol during this time is risky for their still-developing brain.

Look for blocks of time to talk. After dinner, before bed, before school or on the way to or from school and extracurricular activities can work well.

Take a walk or go for a drive together. With less eye contact, your teen won’t feel like they are under a microscope.

Approach Your Talks With Openness

Keep an open mind. If you want to have a productive conversation with your teen, try to keep an open mind and remain curious and calm. That way, your child is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say.

Ask open-ended questions. For a more engaging conversation, you’ll want to get more than just a “yes” or “no” response from your child.

Use active listening. Let your teen know they are understood by reflecting back what you hear — either verbatim or just the sentiment. It works like this: You listen without interrupting (no matter what), then sum up what you’ve heard to allow them to confirm. Try these phrases:

  • “It seems like you’re feeling…”
  • “I hear you say you’re feeling…”
  • “Am I right that you’re feeling…”

Use “I” statements to keep the flow going. “I” statements let you express yourself without your teenager feeling judged, blamed, or attached. You describe the behavior, how you feel about it and how it affects you. Then you spell out what you need. Like this:

  • “When you don’t come home on time, I worry that something terrible has happened. What I need is for you to call me as soon as you know you’re going to be late so that I know you’re okay.”
  • “I feel like you can’t hear what I have to say when you’re so mad. Then I get frustrated. I need to talk about this later when we’re both able to listen.”
  • “Because I love you and I want to keep you safe, I worry about you going to the concert. I need to know that you will obey our rules about not drinking or using drugs.”
  • “I” statements allow you to use persuasion (not control or blame) to cause a change in their behavior. You also allow them to help decide what happens next — another key to bonding.

Offer Empathy & Support

Let your child know you understand. The teen years can be tough. Acknowledge that everyone struggles sometimes, but drugs and alcohol are not a useful or healthy way to cope with problems. Let your child know they can trust you.

Remind your child that you are there for support and guidance — and that it’s important to you that they’re healthy, happy and make safe choices.

Keep Medications Safe & Secure

If you have medications in the house it is a good idea to keep them in a secure location. A medication lock box is an easy way to keep medications safe and secure.

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