Sue Scheff: Prescription Drug Abuse and Teens on the Rise

pharmSince I speak with parents on almost a daily basis, I hear more and more of teens today selling, buying and/or taking prescription drugs. Parents need to be aware of this. Especially if you have a child on ADD/ADHD medication – keep count – be alert – be a proactive and educated parent. Or if you or anyone else in your home is on prescriptions meds, if you suspect you are refilling these prescriptions more often – stop, take count.

“I was a bum, I had slept outside, I mean all the stuff that you hear … and I always pictured a drug addict to be somebody that sleeps under a bridge … and it happened before I even knew it.”

– Andrew Theriot, 21 years old

Andrew Theriot first tried the prescription painkiller OxyContin when he was 17.  Within a month, he turned into someone nobody liked.  Andrew says, “My friends, nobody trusted me.  My family pretty much told me to get out after a long period of time … I would steal things.”

Experts say OxyContin gives an instant feeling of euphoria.  Sue Rusche, President of the anti-drug group National Families in Action, says, “I think we have to be honest about drugs.  I think we have to tell kids that the reason people use drugs is that drugs make you feel great … at first.  And you gotta have that ‘at first’ part.”

Next comes addiction.  Andrew spent every minute looking for drugs. He says, “I would wake up every day and I would just be miserable.  And the only thing I would look forward to that day would be getting high.”

Addiction brought misery, and so did withdrawal when Andrew was in rehab.  He says, “You get sick, you get the cold sweats, throwing up, stomach problems, you can’t eat.  I mean I was down to 125 pounds.”

Andrew is now in college.  He’s been drug free for two years, and has some advice to parents.   “I mean, don’t be enablers.  Don’t bail them out of jail.  Don’t pay their fines.  Don’t give them money.  You know, if they want money, get a job.  Don’t be the cause of them killing themselves.”

Tips for Parents

OxyContin is a controlled-release pain reliever that can drive away pain for up to 12 hours when used properly. When used improperly, however, OxyContin is a highly addictive opioid closely related to morphine. As individuals abuse the drug, the effects lessen over time, leading to higher dosage use.

Consider the following:

  • The supply of OxyContin is soaring. Sales of OxyContin, first marketed in 1996, hit $1.2 billion in 2003.
  • The FDA reports that OxyContin may have played a role in 464 deaths across the country in 2000 to 2001.
  • In 2000, 43 percent of those who ended up in hospital emergency rooms from drug overdoses – nearly 500,000 people – were there because of misusing or abusing prescription drugs.
  • In seven cities in 2000 (Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.) 626 people died from overdose of painkillers and tranquilizers. By 2001, such deaths had increased in Miami and Chicago by 20 percent.
  • From 1998 to 2000, the number of people entering an emergency room because of misusing or abusing oxycodone (OxyContin) rose 108 percent. The rates are intensifying … from mid-2000 to mid-2001, oxycodone went up in emergency room visits 44 percent.

OxyContin is typically abused in one of three ways …

  • By removing the outer coating and chewing the tablet.
  • By dissolving the tablet in water and injecting the fluid intravenously.
  • By crushing the tablet and snorting the powder.

Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration puts its seal of approval on prescription drugs, many teens mistakenly believe that using these drugs – even if they are not prescribed to them – is safe. However, this practice can, in fact, lead to addiction and severe side effects. How can you determine if your teen is abusing drugs? The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests looking for the following warning signs and symptoms in your teen:

  • Physical: Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes and a lasting cough
  • Emotional: Personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression and a general lack of interest
  • Familial: Starting arguments, breaking rules or withdrawing from the family
  • School-related: Decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy and discipline problems
  • Social: having new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, problems with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music

If you believe your teen has a problem with drug abuse, you can take several steps to get the help he or she needs. The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests contacting your health-care provider so that he or she can perform an adequate medical evaluation in order to match the right treatment or intervention program with your teen. You can also contact a support group in your community dedicated to helping families coping with addiction.

Substance abuse can be an overwhelming issue with which to deal, but it doesn’t have to be. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America offers the following strategies to put into practice so that your teen can reap the rewards of a healthy, drug-free life:

  • Be your teen’s greatest fan. Compliment him or her on all of his or her efforts, strength of character and individuality.
  • Encourage your teen to get involved in adult-supervised after-school activities. Ask him or her what types of activities he or she is interested in and contact the school principal or guidance counselor to find out what activities are available. Sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting to find out which activities your teen is best suited for, but it’s worth the effort – feeling competent makes children much less likely to use drugs.
  • Help your teen develop tools he can use to get out of drug-related situations. Let him or her know he or she can use you as an excuse: “My mom would kill me if I smoked marijuana!”
  • Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents. Set appointments for yourself to call them and check-in to make sure they share your views on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Steer your teen away from any friends who use drugs.
  • Call teens’ parents if their home is to be used for a party. Make sure that the party will be drug-free and supervised by adults.
  • Set curfews and enforce them. Let your teen know the consequences of breaking curfew.
  • Set a no-use rule for alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
  • Sit down for dinner with your teen at least once a week. Use the time to talk – don’t eat in front of the television.
  • Get – and stay – involved in your teen’s life.

References

  • American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • Partnership for a Drug-Free America
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration
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