Another successful Lock Your Meds campaign is coming to a close. This initiative is aimed at providing prescription drugs abuse facts to parents, students and educators, as well as encouraging parents to keep powerful medicine locked up and away from teens who might steal and improperly use the pills.
Yet, the effort to curb prescription drug abuse can’t end simply because our 2017 campaign is ending. Pills remain a big problem in Florida schools and teachers are an important ally in keeping kids safe. Here are several prescription drug abuse facts teachers should know:
Prescription Drug Abuse and Teens
The latest statistics show that 18 percent of 12th-graders in the United States in 2016 have abused a prescription drug in their lifetime, 12 percent in the last year and 5.4 percent in the past month. Although those numbers are down from 2013, they are still far too high—in a class of 20 students, even just one who is misusing pills is too many.
Pills Commonly Abused
Amphetamines and opioid painkillers are the prescription drugs most likely to be abused by teenagers. The painkillers are particularly insidious—Vicodin and OxyContin are easy to get hooked on and can lead to other, more powerful (and unfortunately, sometimes more easily accessible) drugs when the pills can’t be obtained. Speed and meth are most often associated with amphetamines, but Adderall and Ritalin—usually prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—are more commonly misused by students. Tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax are generally less likely to be abused by teens but can still be a big problem.
How Teens Get Pills
Teenagers may buy pills off the street or from other students—similar to how they would secure harder drugs such as marijuana or heroin—but often, they are getting prescription drugs from their home medicine cabinet or from friends who are taking them from their homes. Sometimes, the medications are prescribed to someone in the household, which makes it just a matter of taking a pill or two from the bottle and hoping no one notices. Doctors prescribe painkillers so often that even well-meaning patients can become inadvertently addicted, not to mention teens who are stealing the drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Other times, the drugs are prescribed to the teens themselves and are subsequently abused. Take Adderall misuse, for example. The drug has been shown to be effective in treating ADHD, but in non-ADHD sufferers—who may be taking it as a study aid—it is detrimental. And unfortunately, teens faking ADHD to get a prescription is becoming more common.
Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse
The best defense against recognizing the signs of prescription drug abuse is to know your students. Unfortunately, common side effects—fatigue, irritability, lack of focus—of some drugs also perfectly describe the average teenager. However, when a student starts continually acting out of character (for example, a studious teen suddenly starts failing tests), the side effects might become more apparent. Those prescription drug abuse signs include:
- Adderall and other amphetamines: Restlessness, fatigue, odd behavior, unusual talkativeness, anxiety, weight loss
- Painkillers: Nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, depression, restlessness, confusion, sweating
- Tranquilizers: Dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, slow reflexes, disorientation, memory loss, aggression, agitation
Although this post is aimed at providing prescription drug abuse facts, over-the-counter drugs are also often misused by teens—and are potentially even easier to obtain. Cough medicine, for example, might be in the family medicine cabinet, but because it’s OTC, parents think it’s safe and don’t take as much care in securing it. A major risk with many OTC drugs, including DXM (in cough medicine), pseudoephedrine (in cold medicine), or motion sickness pills, is that they must be taken in high doses to provide any effect, but that high dose is inherently dangerous. Also, caffeine pills such as NoDoz (as well as energy drinks such as 5-hour Energy) are stimulants that are generally not good for teens even when used correctly.
The state is still sorting out what Amendment 2 in Florida (Medical Marijuana) will mean in terms of prescriptions, dosages and access, but potentially, the law could negatively affect teenagers. A parent who is prescribed marijuana would be encouraged would have to take great care in securing it so it could not be accessed, much like they would with prescription drugs. Teachers should be cognizant of the latest developments with Amendment 2 and realize the impact it can potentially have on their students.
What prescription drug abuse facts give you the most reason for concern?