“One in 10 teens (Grades 9-12) reported non-medically using at least one prescription drug during the past year, and 59 per cent of those said they obtained it from home.” Should you be concerned?

By Linda Millar

AS PARENTS, WE DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN.  We install baby gates, put covers over electrical outlets and store our caustic substances away from small hands. As our children navigate their way through their growing years, we teach them about traffic signals, stranger danger and making smart choices. We do our best to help our sons and daughters mature into healthy, happy contributing citizens. That is our job and, for the most part, we are good at it.

Why then, are we feeling challenged when it comes to talking to our teens about abusing prescription drugs?

A DISTURBING TREND
Many pre-teens and adolescents are ‘borrowing’ our prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet at home. Some are just looking for something to help them stay awake to study, to try out a sleeping pill or to take an anti-anxiety pill when they feel overwhelmed. Others say they begin to experiment with prescription drugs because they think they are safer than street drugs, are accessible and, lets face it, they are free.

Some adolescents have the misguided perception that prescription drugs are not addictive and, in their search to find their place in the world, they often turn to their peers for advice. During the preteen and adolescent years, our children are undergoing rapid changes in their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development, and peers play an influential role in their decision-making.

A scary emerging trend, sometimes called “pharm parties, pill parties, skittle parties or trail mix parties” entails raiding medicine cabinets and bringing in various prescription medicines as the price of admission to add to a “punch bowl” and share with peers. These parties are surfacing across Canada and have medical and pharmaceutical professionals extremely concerned.

It is important that we remind our young people that medical prescriptions are designed only for the patient on the label and can result in serious complications if used in combinations or quantities other than those directed by the health professional. Mix these drugs with a little alcohol and the outcome can be devastating—even deadly.

WHICH PRESCRIPTION DRUGS ARE MOST OFTEN ABUSED?
The three types of drugs most commonly lifted from medicine cabinets are opioid painkillers, such as Codeine, Fentanyl, and Oxycodone; sedatives and depressants, such as Diazepam and Zolpidem; and stimulants, such as Dexedrine and Ritalin.

WHERE ARE TEENS GETTING THESE DRUGS?
Look no farther than your own medicine cabinet. Do you count your pills? Are they stored in a locked cabinet? Have you ever had “the drug conversation” with your teens? Before we go any further, this is not about guilt or sensationalism. Are all of our teens using drugs? Absolutely not. Some kids may not have even heard about these get-togethers. Many young people are well aware of the dangers associated with using medications to get high, but as parents, we can never assume that our children will not be at risk.

SO, WHAT CAN WE DO TO PROTECT OUR TEENS FROM THIS ALARMING TREND?
Here are some suggestions:
• Keep all of your prescription drugs in a secure and locked cabinet.
• Take your expired or unused prescriptions back to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
• Talk to friends and relatives about this alarming trend and share your strategies for keeping your drugs out of the hands of teens.

PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT SUGGESTION IS TO TALK TO YOUR KIDS.
Set the stage for open, honest communication about your concerns. Explain the facts. Go online with your pre-teens and teens to the Drug Free Kids Canada website (drugfreekidscanada.org/secureyourmeds/) and explore what the experts are saying. Remind your son or daughter that you are always available to listen, to talk or to come and get them if they are sensing danger in any way.

You are the first and most influential teacher your child will ever have. You have the ability to help shape their choices now and in the future. ■

Linda Millar is a contributor to Drug Free Kids Canada, and an education consultant with over 30 years of experience. She has authored several teacher resources in the fields of substance use prevention, media literacy, childhood obesity, and mental health.