Most of us have left a pharmacy with a little white bag containing medicine and a packet of drug information. We skim the details because we want to know the risks of what we are about to put into our bodies.
Every medicine comes with side effects and risks. A drug’s benefits outweigh its risks when prescribed and managed by a health care professional and taken as directed.
Problems occur when a person uses a medication in a way the prescribing doctor did not intend.
This includes over-use — taking a medication more often or at a higher dose than recommended — or using someone else’s medicine for a euphoric “high.”
Prescription drug abuse is a serious health concern, especially among teens. In Routt County, one in six teens has abused prescription drugs at least once in their lifetime and begins experimenting as early as seventh grade, according to the 2010 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
“So many more people are being prescribed prescription drugs, therefore teens’ level of access has become easier,” explained Kate Elkins, director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition of Routt County, which works to stop youth substance abuse through community education and programs.
Many teens think that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor and are easily obtained in their home or homes of friends and relatives.
Talking to teens about the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter drugs and setting rules about their own medications — taking prescribed doses and not sharing with other teens — is the first step toward preventing them from heading down a potentially life-threatening path.
“If you are not talking to them about it, they are not going to have any expectations or boundaries,” Elkins said.
Prescription drugs that are commonly abused include pain killers, such as those drugs prescribed after surgery; depressants, including sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants, such as drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A large dose of prescription painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulty leading to death. Stimulant abuse can cause hostility, paranoia, heart system failure or fatal seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment and ability to learn, which can increase the risk of injury.
Abusing over-the-counter cough and cold remedies can result in blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma and even death. Using prescription or over-the-counter medicines with alcohol or other drugs exacerbates risks. Prescription drug addiction increases a teen’s risk of drug dependency later in life.
In addition to talking to their teens about prescription drug risks, parents should consider keeping prescriptions — especially painkillers, depressants and stimulants — in a locked medicine cabinet and monitor quantities. Talk to relatives and other teens’ parents about how they are safeguarding medications in their homes.
Get rid of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that you no longer needed. Ask your pharmacist about the best way to dispose of certain medications. It’s unsafe to flush most prescriptions drugs down the toilet. Some pharmacies will take old or unwanted medications that are not controlled substances.
A drug Take Back Day will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 28 at the Steamboat Springs Police Department, 840 Yampa Ave. All medications will be accepted.
For more information about prescription and over-the-counter medication abuse, call Grand Futures Prevention Coalition at 970-879-6188 or visit www.grandfutures.org/timetotalk.
This article includes information from the Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com, and the Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov.
Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.