From the NYU Child Study Center: Ask the Expert
How Can I Protect My Child from Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse?
There is good news in the fight against drug use. Several year-end surveys of teenage substance use in 2006 report a decline in overall alcohol, cigarette, and illegal drug use. But that does not mean that parents should relax their vigilance. As fashions change, so do the substances which teenagers use to get high. A recent study shows that a small but growing number of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders reported using prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, as well as over-the-counter cough medicines. Over-the-counter cough medicines are legal, cheap, and easy to get. Most contain dextromethorphan, a component of cough suppressants that at higher doses can cause hallucinogenic states. And although prescription painkillers are harder to get, family medicine cabinets—and increasingly the internet—are usually good sources.
Several officials have voiced concern over these findings. “The intentional use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines is a pervasive problem that has become a far too normal part of many teenagers’ lives,” according to Stephen J. Pasierb, President and CEO, Partnership for a Drug-Free America (New York Times, 1/8/07).
Although the number of teens who reported that they abused prescription medicine and over-the-counter drugs is not high compared to the number of teens who use illegal drugs, the trend is of concern, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Many teens believe that if medications are obtainable in a pharmacy they cannot be dangerous, but they may not realize the danger when they overdose or combine them with alcohol or other medications.
What parents can do:
Don’t keep an excess of any medication at home—buy just enough for the treatment of a current medical problem.
Watch out for possible symptoms of abuse: slurred speech, dilated pupils, sweating, high temperature, dry mouth, blurred vision, hallucinations, delusions, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, numbness in fingers and toes, red face, loss of consciousness.
Pay attention to credit card charges.
Be aware of packages that are mailed to your home.
Note empty medicine bottles.
Store your own medicines in a secure place and always throw away outdated medicine.
Monitor the internet sites your teen accesses—there are sites where teens share information on how to obtain medicines of abuse and the combinations that are most potent.
Remember that prevention, starting at an early age, is critical.
Remember you are your child’s most important role model.
Talk openly about the harmful effects of drug and alcohol abuse.
Clearly state what you expect your teen to do when confronted with substance abuse in others.
Recognize stress in your teen and help to find ways of appropriately dealing with it.
Keep track of where, with whom, and what your teen is doing after school and other free times..
Discuss examples of substance abuse in movies and television, and point out the serious consequences.
While respecting your teen’s privacy is important, don’t ever forget to balance it with your responsibility to be an effective parent.
This monthly column provides educators, parents and families with important information about child and adolescent mental health issues. Please submit questions for ASK THE EXPERT to Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D., Medical Director at the NYU Child Study Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the ASK THE EXPERT Newsletter or for more information about the NYU Child Study Center, visit www.AboutOurKids.org or call 212-263-6622.