Teens exchanging pills from medication bottle


Generation Rx: Is your medicine cabinet supplying a kid cartel?

Whatever happened to those pain pills that were left after the minor surgery you had last year or the Ritalin® that your child used to take?

If teens—your own or someone else's—have access to your medicine cabinet, you'd better check it out. Prescription medicines, often from mom and dad's medicine cache, have become an alarming trend in teen drug abuse. Kids are choosing prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines more often than street drugs, and it's no wonder. It's so easy and cheap to get the medications. Pain relievers such as OxyContin® and Norco® are the prescription medications most commonly abused by teens.

Warning signs of drug abuse

Watch for these warning signs of teen drug abuse from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign:

  • changes in friends
  • negative changes in schoolwork, missing school or declining grades
  • increased secrecy about possessions, conversations or activities
  • use of incense, room deodorant or perfume to hide smoke or chemical odors
  • change in clothing choices: new fascination with clothes that highlight drug use
  • increase in borrowing money
  • bottles of eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • missing prescription medications—especially narcotics and mood stabilizers

Stop supplying prescription drugs unknowingly  

  • Talk with your kids.Teens whose parents have discussed drugs with them are half as likely to abuse them, but only one-third of parents have had the conversation with their kids. Explain that prescription drugs can be addictive. And while medicines are generally safe in prescribed doses, kids may take large enough doses to cause severe reactions and even death.
  • Monitor and lock up your medications and dispose of meds that you no longer use.

  • It's a good idea to request a time limit on refills, too. An attractive drug with unlimited refills can be too tempting.
  • Properly dispose of drugs you no longer need. The preferred disposal method is to take them to special disposal sites (learn more about safe medication disposal options and get a list of available disposal sites). Check with your local law enforcement agency for a location in your area. You can also put medications in a sealable container or bag, mixed with some unpleasant substance like used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and throw them in the trash. Don't flush them down the toilet as that can pollute water.


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