July 6, 2010
Vigilant parents try to keep their children safe from drugs and alcohol by locking the liquor cabinet, watching for signs of illegal drug use and staying aware of where and with whom our kids spend time.
But changing times and the ever-evolving risky behavior of teenagers require changes in what it means to be vigilant. And one of the newest dangers isn't found in a liquor store or on a street corner, it is inside our medicine cabinets.
Many of us have legally prescribed drugs which, if used improperly, can cause great harm including addiction, impaired functioning and even death. In addition, many children take legally prescribed stimulant medications, and parents have a responsibility to make sure those medicines are taken as prescribed and not abused, misused or sold.
Many legally prescribed painkillers — helpful when properly used — affect the brain in ways similar to heroin. That can lead not only to abuse of the prescription drug, but to an addict seeking out illegal drugs when the medication is no longer available.
Prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse by teens and young adults is a serious problem in the United States. As reported in the Partnership for a Drug Free America's annual tracking study: one in five teens has abused a prescription pain medication; one in five reports abusing prescription stimulants and tranquilizers; and one in 10 has abused cough medication.
There are many things we can do to prevent our children from abusing prescription drugs. One of the easiest is locking up our prescription medicines to remove the potential for abuse. Of course, heart medicine or asthma medicine, which may be needed in an emergency, should be kept accessible. But most of our prescription drugs need not be so close at hand.
In addition to locking away prescription medicines, drugs that are no longer needed should be disposed of safely. A dentist, for example, may prescribe a full bottle of pain pills for a patient who has had wisdom teeth removed. Once the pain has subsided, there is no reason to keep the pain pills indefinitely.
Disposing of prescription drugs requires some common sense, too, to prevent someone from fishing them out of the trash. Don't flush them down the toilet unless that is the instruction on the label, because prescription medicine can pollute the water supply.
There are a number of approved methods for getting rid of unneeded drugs. A good one is to remove all name and prescription information from the bottle, shred and dispose of the label, then pour a little milk into the bottle and seal it. The milk will curdle, dissolving the pills and making the bottle's contents especially unappealing.
In addition to not allowing children access to prescription drugs in the home, parents should be attentive to whether they obtain them outside the house. Although warning signs for prescription drug abuse vary with the type and amount of drug taken, key signs include physical symptoms such as constricted pupils, slurred speech and flushed skin and behavioral symptoms such as acting secretive, borrowing money, missing pills or finding unfamiliar pills.
Connecticut is leading the way with organizations and agencies such as The Governor's Prevention Partnership, regional action councils, the Department of Consumer Protection and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Prescription drug abuse offers a new set of problems for parents, but I'm confident that we have the infrastructure and support in Connecticut to keep our kids safe and on the path toward a bright future.