July 3, 2018

| July 3, 2018

Is Someone Stealing Your Prescription Meds?

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 6.4 million Americans abused prescription drugs, and the vast majority of those were obtained from family and friends.

Has someone been “shopping” in your medicine cabinet?

As the opioid epidemic rages across our nation, trouble is brewing right in our own backyards. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 6.4 million Americans abused prescription drugs, and the vast majority of those were obtained from family and friends. Often, they were taken from the home medicine cabinet by visitors, repair service people, real estate open house visitors, burglars, family or friends.

And it’s not just opioids: powerful stimulants, anxiety meds and even over-the-counter medications are being stolen and misused.

All too often, the people pilfering powerful medications from rightful owners live just down the hall. They’re our teenagers. According to the Monitoring the Future survey, half of high school seniors felt that it would be fairly easy or very easy to acquire prescription painkillers to abuse if they wanted to.

Teens and their parents tend to dismiss the pilfering of powerful medications. Here’s why:

Attitudinal studies show that parents and teens alike believe powerful medications are safe because “they were prescribed by a doctor.” So it’s no problem if one or two go astray….

  • Denial plays a role. Most parents cannot or will not imagine that their precious teen could meddle with medications. “My kid is too smart to do something stupid like that” or “She’s not that kind of kid” are parental blinders that expose youth to risk, rather than protect them.
  • Young people think that they are bulletproof and have a “nothing can harm me” attitude. While their brains are developmentally primed for risk-taking, their risky behaviors can harm them – or others.
  • Many parents, oblivious to the signs of pilfered medications, don’t even realize their pills are missing.
  • If parents do happen to notice a missing pill or two, they may hesitate to crack down because those pills seem so benign compared to illicit drugs from the street. After all, they’re pills from a pharmacy, not heroin from a street corner.

A woman looking at her phone.

A single pill can kill, or set the stage for addiction

Teens often mix opioids with other substances, which can be particularly dangerous. Mixing opioids with other substances, such as alcohol, can create a deadly cocktail that slows down reaction time or impairs breathing, leading to fatal accidents or accidental overdose.

And prescription medication abuse can set the stage for street drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nearly 80 percent of people who inject heroin started by abusing prescription drugs. And those first pilfered pills can lay the neurological foundation for a lifetime of struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol (known as substance use disorder or SUD.) Early exposure to alcohol or other drugs can change the way the teen brain develops, making it more vulnerable to the development of SUD. Once this brain disease has taken root, it’s very hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

Signs that someone’s been shopping in your medicine cabinet

Designed to meet standards developed in 1970, child-resistant packaging offers only a tiny barrier to the intrepid teen or visitor who is “shopping” in your medicine cabinet.

Even more rigorously-designed abuse-deterrent packaging can probably be opened by someone with expertise in breaking into safes and vaults, given enough time and the tools.

While no abuse-deterrent packaging is 100% fail-safe, these protective devices can offer a powerful first line of defense, especially when coupled with a parent’s powers of observation.

Here are some things you might spot if someone’s been messing with your meds:

  • Your medication bottle is not in the same place you left it.
  • The cap isn’t on securely or isn’t even on at all.
  • Your medication bottle doesn’t open as smoothly as before, or the top may be difficult to remove.
  • Your medication bottle shows physical signs of attempted entry, such as dents or cracks.
  • Your medication bottle is wet on the outside or inside, or the contents are wet.
  • The contents – capsules or pills – look different than they usually do, which may indicate that some or all have been removed and replaced with another look-alike pill (which can be dangerous to both patient and pilferer). The capsules or pills may not be the same size or thickness or length or color. Some of the pills may be broken. The capsules or pills may have a strange or different odor or taste. Or upon first glance, there appear to be fewer pills than usual.
  • You find yourself refilling your prescription more often than before. You might even think that your pharmacist mistakenly “shorted” your prescription.
  • And, of course, if your medication bottle is missing entirely or has been broken open, you’ve got an undeniable problem on your hands.

Looking for the signs that indicate medication tampering – that’s a job for vigilant parents and family members everywhere. Safeguarding those powerful medications in the right hands – that’s what Safer Lock does best.


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