Opinion: Prescription drugs: Begin the conversation with your teens today

Let face it, prescription drugs are all around us. This is apparent in so many ways. Family members and parents responsibly take daily medications to treat an injury or disease. Some family members take prescription medications for other medical conditions – to stay alert, to stay awake or to go to sleep. In seven out of 10 visits to a physician, patients leave the office with a prescription in hand. Direct advertising on TV and in magazines leave viewers desensitized to many medications in general. All of this tends to normalize prescription drug use.

Prescription Drug Take Back Day was held on Oct. 29 throughout San Diego to get rid of expired and unused prescription drugs from our medicine cabinets. More than 6,984 lbs. of prescription drugs were collected, up from 4,890 lbs. from last spring’s Take Back Day. The drugs were collected and properly disposed of by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Local armed services, county sheriffs, police departments, health care organizations, pharmacists, prevention and treatment agencies participated in this event. Additionally, specialists were available to offer resources to community members that drove through the drop-off sites throughout the county.

For adults aged 34-54, prescription drug use has been described as epidemic. However, did you realize that teenage prescription drug abuse is on the rise?

Teens abuse prescription drugs the most, second to marijuana. According to the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration or SAMHSA, (2008) (Results from 2007 National Survey on Drug Use & Health), 20 percent of high school students nationwide have taken prescription drugs without consulting a doctor. One in three teens say there is nothing wrong with abusing prescription meds “every once in a while.” Every day 2,000 teens abuse prescription drugs for the first time.

Where do teens get the prescription drugs? According to SAMHSA, more than 56 percent of teens report getting them free from family or friends; 8.9 percent bought them from a friend or family and 5.2 percent stole them from friends or family. Most friends and relatives get their prescription drugs from a doctor.

Teens do not often realize the dangerous physiological effects of these drugs, which may have disastrous results. These include increased blood pressure and/or heart rate, brain and/or organ damage, overdose or poisoning, physical dependency and/or addiction, disrupted breathing, seizure, permanent disability or even death. Obviously there is additional risk if mixing prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol. Some teens abuse prescription drugs to get high through “pharming” or “bowling” parties, where pills are dumped into a bowl and kids randomly grab a handful of pills and wash them down with alcohol. Frightening.

What can be done? There are several things parents can do. Parents and family members can lock up their meds and dispose of their unused and expired medicines at county sheriff’s offices (, link to community outreach) or police departments ( during regular business hours. A prescription drug drop box, which looks like a mailbox, is located in the lobbies. No questions asked.

Parents can provide clear expectations to teens. Have conversations with your teens and let them know you are aware of this emerging issue (most kids think their parents are clueless about prescription drug abuse). Tell them that abusing prescription drugs is just as dangerous as abusing other substances; that these drugs can be highly addictive. Let them know that it is NOT ok to try them even once. Discuss how to help your teen get out of a bad situation if they are offered prescription drugs. Let teens know that saying “ No thanks – I’m not into that,” or “I’m not interested, ” and then walking away are effective strategies. Tell them that you will be there for them to pick them up if they feel uncomfortable with a situation – no questions asked.

We know that parents have the greatest influence on teen’s drug use attitudes and decisions. Don’t wait. Begin the conversations with your teens today.

Nancy Perry-Sheridan, MSW

San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth