What we don’t know can hurt us
BY APRIL DEMERS
Tecumseh Coalition for Youth
As parents, relatives, teachers and concerned adults, we spend a lot of time helping teens circumvent the challenges that could ruin their lives. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is substance abuse. We talk to them about the hazards of underage alcohol use and the problems associated with abusing marijuana and other dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. According to national statistics, we’re making progress, with most illicit drug use going down over time.
A drug category that requires our attention is prescription medications. The fact is that one in five teens or 4.5 million young people have abused Rx drugs, and every day almost 2,500 teens abuse an prescription medication for the first time (National Council on Patient Information and Education). They are abusing these medications to get high, fall asleep, wake up and deal with stress.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that the drugs most commonly abused by teens are painkillers; depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants, mainly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In 2012, 13.4 percent of Tecumseh seventh graders reported on the Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth survey that they had taken painkillers such as Oxycontin or Vicodin without a doctor’s prescription.
Teens find prescription medication abuse as an acceptable and safer alternative to illicit drug use, second only to marijuana. Why — perhaps because we live in a world where there’s a pill for everything. In fact, when we go to the doctor, in seven out of 10 visits we leave with a prescription. It’s no wonder that teens are comfortable with misusing and abusing prescription medications. They also believe that because these drugs are legal, they are safer than marijuana, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine.
Prescription drugs are easy to get. Fifty-six percent of people who use prescription medications non-medically say they obtain these drugs from friends and relatives (NSDUH 2008), meaning that these drugs are freely shared or taken from medicine cabinets or other accessible places.
So how do we protect the rights of those who need these medications to relieve pain while also preventing their abuse? We’ve got to sound the alarm to parents, grandparents and adult caregivers that prescription drugs are a source of grave concern. Teens are abusing these drugs and some are even dying because of it. Parents can protect their teens by locking up their meds, keeping track of medication quantities and properly disposing of medications that are no longer needed. Did you know that the Tecumseh Police Department has a free medication disposal bin available for residents Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to noon? Let’s all do our part in keeping our community kids safe and healthy by addressing this issue and reducing access to medications that are known to be abused.
April Demers is the mother of three teenage children and serves as the Coordinator for the Tecumseh Coalition for Youth, a group of community volunteers who are working together to prevent and reduce substance abuse in the Tecumseh community through education, community collaboration, and innovative strategies.