Medicine abuse is real and it’s happening in your community. One in five young adults has abused a prescription drug. One in 30 young adults has used an over-the-counter cough medicine to get high.
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. This annual campaign raises awareness of the dangers of prescription and OTC medication abuse.
Here are 10 things to know about medicine abuse:
1. Teens ARE Abusing Medicines
According to surveys from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 20% of teens say they have taken a prescription drug without having a prescription for it themselves, and 5% report abusing OTC cough medicine to get high.
2. Teens Favor Prescription Drugs Above Others
The most common drugs teens abuse, behind marijuana, are prescription medications. The most commonly abused prescription medications are:
- Opioids and pain relievers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin)
- Barbiturates and benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax)
- Stimulants such as dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine or Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin or Concerta)
Many of these prescription drugs are extremely dangerous. They can lead to addiction and cause an overdose.
Some of these prescription medications are even more dangerous when combined; mixing an opiate pain reliever with a benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication, for example, can increase the risk of overdose death.
3. Prescription Opioids can be Addicting
Teens may experiment with prescription drugs because they believe they are “safer” than street drugs. After all, these drugs are prescribed from a medical professional.
What they don’t realize is the potential for addiction lurking in those pills.
One side effect of opioid use is tolerance. As a patient continues to take opioids, the body can become tolerant of their effect, meaning it requires more and more of the substance to get the same pain-relieving (or euphoria-inducing) sensation.
What once took one pill to achieve now takes two. And then three.
At the same time that the body is becoming tolerant, it can also become dependent. Not taking the medication can lead to unpleasant physical symptoms. After a while, users find themselves taking the pills just to feel “normal.”
Because of tolerance and dependence, prescription drug experimentation can quickly spiral into addiction.
4. Young Adults are Biggest Abusers of Rx Drugs
Non-medical use of prescription drugs is highest among young adults aged 18 to 25.
They’re using prescription opioid painkillers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs for a variety of reasons, including to:
- Get high
- Study better
- Deal with problems
- Feel better
- Relieve pain
- Feel better
- Have a good time with friends
- Counter the effects of other drugs
- Lose weight
- Feel less anxious
5. RX Drug Abuse can be Deadly
In 2014, more than 1,700 young adults died from prescription drug (mainly opioid) overdoses—more than died from overdoses of any other drug, including heroin and cocaine combined—and many more needed emergency treatment.
Opioid overdoses in people of all ages increased 30% from July 2016 through September 2017 across 45 states.
Rx painkillers have resulted in more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.
6. Rx Opioid Use is a Risk Factor for Heroin Use
Heroin use has been on the rise in the U.S. since 2007, a trend that appears to be driven by young adults aged 18 to 25.
First-time heroin use is 19x higher among people who have reported the previous non-medical use of prescription painkillers than those who have not.
A study of young, urban injection drug users found that 86% had used opioid pain relievers non-medically prior to using heroin.
7. Fentanyl Opioid Deaths on the Rise
In 2016, fentanyl surpassed prescription opioids as the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the U.S.
Fentanyl can be 50x more potent than heroin. Due to its chemical structure, fentanyl has rapid and potent effects on the brain and body, and even very small amounts can be extremely dangerous.
Illegal, non-medical fentanyl is cheaply produced in illicit labs. Because it’s so cheap to produce, it’s often mixed in with heroin or added to tablets that mimic less potent prescription opioid pills.
Anyone who purchases heroin or prescription pain relievers off the street could be unknowingly purchasing a product containing fentanyl – vastly increasing their risk of overdose death.
8. Parents Could be Unknowing Suppliers
The study of young injection drug users found that these urban youths were getting their prescription pain relievers from three sources:
- Personal prescriptions
Two-thirds of young adults who report prescription medicine abuse are getting drugs from family and friends.
But that doesn’t mean they’re getting them with permission.
Sometimes a teen or young adult will help themselves to a parent’s prescription opioid - taking one or two pills at a time from an easily accessible bottle.
Parents who keep their prescription medications unlocked in a bathroom medicine cabinet, kitchen cabinet, bedside table, purse, or briefcase could be unknowingly supplying their kids (and their friends) with a steady supply of drugs.
9. Teens are Abusing Cough Medicine
Roughly one in four teenagers know someone who has abused cough medicine to get high, and one in 30 reports doing so themselves.
OTC cough medicines are inexpensive and easily available. And many teens think they’re safer than illicit or prescription drugs to get high.
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is the main ingredient in cough medicines. Teens are taking large doses of DXM-containing medicines - sometimes as much as 25x the recommended dosage - to get high.
When taken in large doses, DXM causes a depressant effect and sometimes a hallucinogenic effect, similar to PCP and ketamine.
1 in 30 teens has abused cough medicine to get high.
10. OTC Medication Abuse Can be Dangerous
Short-term effects of DXM misuse can range from mild stimulation to alcohol- or marijuana-like intoxication. At high doses, a person may have hallucinations or feelings of physical distortion, extreme panic, paranoia, anxiety, and aggression.
Other health effects from DXM misuse can include the following:
- poor motor control
- lack of energy
- stomach pain
- vision changes
- slurred speech
- increased blood pressure
As with other opioids, when people overdose on DXM their breathing often slows or stops. This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term effects on mental health and the nervous system, including coma, permanent brain damage, and death.
Protecting Teens from Medicine Abuse
How can parents protect their teens from medicine experimentation that can potentially lead to addiction or overdose?
Stopmedicineabuse.org recommends the following:
- TALK to your teen about OTC cough medicine abuse.
- MONITOR your medicine cabinets and your teen’s activities.
- SHARE what you have learned with other parents and community leaders.
Be sure you’re using and storing medicines safely in your home.
Talk to Your Teens
You may not realize it, but when you talk - your kids listen. Teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs. Many teens who experiment with OTC and Rx medicines mistakenly think these drugs are “safer” alternatives compared to illicit street drugs.
Make sure your teens know the truth: medicines can lead to addiction, serious health effects, and even death.
Monitor Your Medicines
The easiest way to protect your kids from medicine abuse is to start in your own home.
- Know what’s in your cabinet.
- Lock up prescription painkillers, anti-anxiety meds, or ADHD meds.
- Keep track of how much medication you have on hand.
- Dispose of unwanted, unneeded, or expired meds.
- Keep all medicines out of reach and out of sight of children.
- Watch your teens for signs of drug abuse.
Spread the Word
Not everyone knows about the dangers of medications. Share this post with your friends and on your social feeds. Talk to other parents about the serious dangers of medicine abuse.
For more information about Medicine Abuse Month and prevention strategies you can use in your own home, visit preventmedabuse.org. #preventmedabuse