Teens and pills

Prescription painkillers, antidepressants and stimulants are easier for teens to get their hands on than beer, according to an annual back-to-school survey released yesterday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The researchers surveyed 1,002 teens, ages 12-17, and found a 46 percent increase from last year in the number of kids who say prescription drugs (that are not prescribed to them) are the easiest illicit substance to access.

One-third of the kids surveyed who know a teenage prescription drug abuser said the teen got their drugs from home. The study’s authors call those parents “passive pushers.”

Are parents aware of this phenomenon? I wonder how much of this trend relates to the amount of psychotropic drugs being prescribed these days. Are more people locking up their prescription drugs or stashing them somewhere less obvious than the medicine cabinet? You’d think they’d notice that their pill bottles were depleted.

image from xtheowl’s site on flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    I think this means *large* numbers of kids are figuring it out. But I don’t believe it’s new.

    When I was in high school – more than 30 years ago – there were kids who swiped their parents’ medications, some to sell to peers, and some for themselves. At least one of my younger siblings took some of our mother’s psychiatric meds and sold them at school. I don’t think s/he got any repeat customers though. Thorazine, haldol and lithium carbonate don’t have any fun effects. If they’d grabbed mom’s tranquilizers, though, they could have had regular customers.

    And I can’t speak for the general population of parents taking prescription meds, but my mother was way too “out there” to ever notice missing pills. She couldn’t ever seem to keep track of how much *she* took herself (or forgot to take – and then back to the locked ward of the hospital for a while), so she wasn’t capable of noticing that someone else might have grabbed a half-dozen of something from the various bottles sotred in kitchen cabinets and drawers.

    Come to think of it, my parents never locked up their liquor cabinet either. I threatened to bust one of my younger siblings if s/he didn’t stop drinking, after I found out s/he was swiping Dad’s rot-gut bourbon and topping the bottle with water so Dad wouldn’t notice. Dad was sharp enough to have caught on when his drinks got weaker. As the oldest, I would have been the first suspect, and that particular sib would have happily kept quiet and left me to hang.

  • Nancy (Fancy)

    With the limitations on health care policies, I don’t see how anyone can “stash” anything in their medicine cabinet, especially when the health insurance only allows a monthly supply to be purchased every 28 days. If they can get their hands on such “drugs” one would have to ask, why a child perceives to be in such pain and feel he/she has the need or desire to take pain killers? Furthermore, almost every night on television there is some ad for drugs with the increase in biotechnology and creation of new drugs, thereby creating a new generation of addicts, like the 50’s housewife addicted to sleeping pills. The real pushers are the corporate media enjoining with drug companies to “brainwash” or sell the need for such prescriptions. Again, parents rule the house, like the “My house, my kitchen…” ads, and if a parent is not teaching media literacy and other decision-making in the home, and are addicts themselves, then that is another major factor in students taking socalled prescription drugs. Unfortunately not all kids have parents like this, and that is just the way it is, that kids will lose out because of the mistakes of the parents. Maybe schools should fund school nurses and counselors to provide awareness services/classes on these issues. Is there even sex education anymore to teach the real “pill” that at least girls should take?

  • Nextset

    Nancy – Insurance companies are commonly allowing 90 day supply of long term Rxs. Also common generic drugs are very low cost now, maybe $10-$15 for a 90 day supply with no insurance required.

    There’s lots of drugs sitting around homes. If the parents fail and neglect to lock up or otherwise secure the Rxs there can be shrinkage from the kids and their friends.

    The elderly are the most indifferent to securing dangerous drugs. I’ve dealt with cases where the grandkids were getting the grandparent’s Vicodin – which was kept on the kitchen counter in 100 pill bottles. That’s a lot of Vicodin… The grandparents refused to secure the drugs even when warned that the (resident) kids were getting into it.

    Of course that was the same family who refused to remove or secure the guns when they had a suicidal adolescent living there also. Go figure.. You can’t fix everybody.

    Kids commonly have access to Valium, Narcotic Tablets, and other useful things to stressed out Adolescents and their willing-to-pay friends. If the parents won’t secure their guns and drugs there isn’t much other people can do about it. The schools have to plan accordingly.

    I don’t see schools having a lucid and reasonable drug policy. It would help if there was open publication of the policy – put it on the website – about how the kids and families are to handle taking their Rxs at school and the rules and penalties about Rx sharing. There are more Rxs on campus than ever. Some of them are essential and must be taken during the day.

    And the kids are not intimidated by pills. Better living through Chemistry.

  • John

    I HAD A DREAM in which I over heard this drug abuse prevention lecture given by a mother to her teenage daughter:

    “Sally! Have you been sneaking pills out of little Johnny’s Ritalin bottle again! Don’t you know those pills are a form of stimulate not too dissimilar from meth!? They keep Johnny from fidgeting in class and help him focus on his school work.

    It’s too bad so many boys have to be boys. Now, with NCLB, a lot of bright boys are bored in class and need something to help them behave while their teacher provides instruction geared for the dumbest kid in the room.

    I’m telling you for the last time, stay out of Johnny’s kiddie meth or I’ll be trotting you off to a drug counselor young lady!”

  • http://truelifeimdiamond.blogspot.com Diamond Broussard

    I understand that some U.S. teens are using prescription drugs, but most are not. Many are into smoking weed and/or drinking alcohol. While parents should be on the lookout for their children swiping their pills, they should be more on the lookout- or rather “smellout” -of their kids smoking weed and drinking alcohol. These two items are much more accessible to teens than many people think.

    Some parents may not understand “Where would my child even get the money from”? You of course! That lunch money. Not spent so much on lunch as much as some bud.

    I’m not saying that parents need to be overbearing. I’m just saying don’t be surprised when you hear that things like this occur. Also, don’t be surprised when your child is out with friends and comes home smelling like smoke. Perhaps they didn’t but almost everyone has friends that do.

  • Nextset

    Some families have such a biological compulsion to addiction there seems nothing they could have done to save their kids. Most don’t. It took a certain amount of taking life for granted to look the other way while the kids became addicts. With most kids of average “odds” of addiction, you expect that “early and often” education about how addiction works would keep them from finding life in a drug.

    Many of the addicts I’ve dealt with (long term cons) had addiction secondary to earlier psych problems. They were already in measurable trouble in elementary school. The drugs came later and was no more than finding their favorite food.

    Some of the Drs I’ve used as experts can tell me that they can generally identify the future addicts and inmates of America by 9th grade.

    Which brings the question that if addiction in inevitable for these people, why waste time and energy chasing after people who don’t want to be “saved” (or bothered)? Should we – and the schools – focus our limited budgets on where we can do the most good?

    The schools are not state hospitals. We are trying to do too much in too many schools. Enforcing attendance and performance standards would weed out the most annoying of the druggies – they’d be disenrolled in the academic schools and have to find another program for themselves in something more creative and less academic.

  • jenny

    There is much debate & discussion on prescription drug abuse by teens and its not a new issue, from decades teens and adults find more easy to approach towards prescription drugs to get Highs. But, its a serious issues specially if we are to talk about teens who are in their progressive and growing age. Their career & development highly depends on healthy routine life being away from drugs. Something, I would like to quote from a site, I found informative & it relates, “It is impossible to predict which teens will experiment and stop and which ones will develop serious problems. Know what your teen is doing and who they are doing it with. The following are some warning signs of teenagers at risk for developing serious prescription drug dependency:
    1. A family history of substance or alcohol abuse
    2. Depression
    3. Low self-esteem
    4. Feel like they don’t fit in and are not popular with the mainstream
    5. Frequently feel sluggish and have difficulty sleeping
    6. Aggressive and rebellious attitude toward authority figures
    Prescription drug abuse is increasing; the main reason is that they are so easily accessible. If your child has one or more of the above behaviors, seek help from a professional.
    What can you do to help prevent teens or any other person from getting involved with prescription drug abuse? The best thing to do is keep your prescription drugs in a safe place: don’t put them in the medicine cabinet in your bathroom because that is the first place teenager’s will look. If possible, lock them up in a cabinet or safe box. Talk to your teen and warn them of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
    Informative source: http://www.teendrugabuse.us/prescription_drug_abuse.html