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Cary Quashen: Keep your kids drug-free

SCV Voices

Posted: February 23, 2010 9:42 p.m.
Updated: February 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Community leaders nationwide have come together in a weeklong effort to curb the biggest drug problem facing our youth today — prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse.

The city of Santa Clarita Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force and the ACTION Parent and Teen Support Group Program have combined efforts with a series of print ads calling attention to prescription-drug abuse that has reached epidemic proportions in this country.

While studies show many teens are turning away from street drugs, now there’s a new and continued threat from the family medicine cabinet: the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

According to the last Monitoring the Future survey in 2008, 2,500 youths age 12 to 17 abused a pain reliever for the first time.

More teens abused prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. More than 2.1 million teens ages 12 - 17 reported abusing prescription drugs. Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.

This includes depressants such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; painkillers such as drugs prescribed after surgery or a dental appointment; and stimulants such as drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Because these drugs are so readily available and many teens believe they are a safe way to get high, teens who wouldn’t otherwise touch illicit drugs might abuse prescription drugs.

The perception is these drugs are safe because they are medicine and are because they have been prescribed by a doctor. Teens also give other “practical” reasons for abuse of these drugs.

For example, they say they abuse prescription painkillers because they believe it is not illegal, there is less shame attached to using them, there are fewer side effects than street drugs and because some parents “don’t care as much if you get caught.”

A myth surrounding the growing trend of teen abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is that they get them from drug dealers. Although many teens may know someone at school who will sell them prescription pills, that’s not how most teens get the drugs they use.

The truth is, most teens get prescription drugs at home by raiding the family medicine cabinet, a grandparent’s medicine cabinet and the medicine cabinets of close family friends.

A kid I know who uses prescription drugs said the first thing he does when he is at someone else’s home is to head for the bathroom and check out the medicine cabinet. Other teens tell me they buy their drugs from a friend or from illegal Internet pharmacies.  

There are serious health risks related to abuse of prescription drugs. A single large dose of prescription or over-the-counter painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulty that can lead to death. Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility or paranoia, or the potential for heart system failure or fatal seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment and ability to learn.

The abuse of over-the-counter cough and cold remedies can cause blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma and even death. Many teens report mixing prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and alcohol. Using these drugs in combination can cause respiratory failure and death.

Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense in addressing this troubling trend and keeping our kids drug-free. Talk with your kids — make every day a teachable moment. Don’t wait until they are teenagers to discuss drug use — any kind of drug use, be it illegal street drugs or prescription drugs.

Start as soon as they are old enough to understand. Then reinforce the conversation as often as you can, no matter how old they are.

Keep all your family medications in a secure place and properly dispose of any unused medications. If you haven’t started the conversation with your teen yet, use this week’s National RX/OTC Drug Awareness Week to start the conversation.

Cary Quashen is a certified addiction specialist, the president and founder of ACTION Family Counseling Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs, and the ACTION Parent and Teen Support Group Program that meets at Canyon High School every Tuesday evening. He can be reached at (661) 713-3006. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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