Before she died from a heroin overdose, she was just another kid. A prescription pain medication on the heels of a sports injury changed all that. The ensuing drug addiction that stole her life is now why her dad, David, spends a lot of his time these days talking to other parents about how they can protect their children from prescription painkiller abuse.
An 8”x10” framed photo of his daughter, taken the year she died, always accompanies him. The fresh young face smiling wholesomely back at the camera is itself a poignant warning about the dangers to teens of prescription painkillers and the need for greater parental monitoring of these drugs.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications are some of the most commonly abused drugs among high school seniors after all, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Of these drugs, opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone are the most deadly; they account for more deaths by overdose than any other drug. Still, nearly half of all teens view these medicines as safer than illicit substances, because they are doctor-prescribed and pharmaceutically regulated. What many of these same teens also don’t know is that prescription drug abuse can quickly lead to full-blown heroin addiction.
Protect Your Child from Prescription Painkiller Addiction
These eight life-saving tips for how to monitor your child’s prescription pain meds are an urgent must-read for any parent, especially those with a child between the ages of 11 and 17:
1. Keep your child’s prescription pain meds in a safe, secure place.
Studies show that a great majority of teens hooked on prescription drugs first got those drugs from the medicine cabinet or from a friend or family member. If your child has a prescription to Oxycontin, Percocet or another highly addictive, painkilling medicine, consider keeping these drugs safely and securely stored in a place known only to you. If your child requires a dose during the school day, ensure that only the school nurse administers it and that the drugs are safe under lock and key.
2. Be in charge of dispensing your child’s medicines—and in strict accordance with your doctor’s dosing instructions and at the smallest effective dose.
It’s not enough to keep your child’s prescription pain meds in a safe, secure location. You’ll also need to administer the drugs yourself, paying careful attention to prescribed dosing instructions. It’s always a good rule of thumb to be conservative about how much you administer at any time. The reality is that even at their recommended dosages, prescription painkillers can be addictive.
3. Talk with your teen about the dangers of prescription pain meds.
Don’t be afraid to talk openly with your child about the dangers of prescription pain meds, so that they are aware of the addiction risks posed by opioids. If your child is an athlete, for example, they may be more susceptible to these risks, simply because of a greater likelihood of sports-related injuries. Inform your child about the latest news on painkiller abuse among teen athletes. Heavy-handed scare tactics aren’t necessary—just a presentation of the hard facts will do, and they are scary enough. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse found that prescription drug use is on the rise among high school athletes, so much so that roughly one in five high school athletes reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons. (The same study found football players were most prone to prescription painkiller abuse.)
4. Monitor your child’s Internet activity in the home.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to buy painkillers without a prescription. If you’re not sure, ask Google. The keywords “buy prescription painkillers” are proof that if your friendly local CVS requires a doctor’s prescription, your online and anonymous pharmacy very well may not. Monitor your child’s Internet activity. This may require:
- Keeping the computer in a central location
- Checking your child’s browser history (although this can be erased)
- Purchasing and installing software that monitors your child’s cell phone and Internet activities
5. Know your child, their friends, social circles and activities, and be on the alert for substance abuse triggers like anxiety.
A study last year found that most kids who abuse prescription drugs aren’t looking to get high; they’re looking to self-medicate a problem such as anxiety. That’s why knowing your child and any issues they may be struggling with socially and academically is very important. Peer pressure, popularity contests, and unhealthy, performance-driven fears of failure are some of the various factors that can cause a teen to begin abusing prescription painkillers.
6. Know the biggest prescribers of painkillers in your area.
Doctors in your area who write thousands of pain med prescriptions each year may be running a “pill mill,” one of many lucrative, pill-pushing operations in this country linked to the prescription drug epidemic. Research state and local doctors who have prescribed a large volume of Schedule II substances, and know their names.
7. Research your state’s prescription drug monitoring program and stay in close touch with your child’s doctor.
Many states now have a drug prescription monitoring program in place that helps doctors track their patients’ prescription history, health record and supervision by other physicians. Know what yours is. Florida’s program, which goes by the name E-FORSCE, requires that health care professionals record each time they dispense a controlled substance to a patient. Ask your child’s doctor for any information they may have about your child’s medical history through your state’s prescription drug monitoring program, and stay in close touch with your doctor.
8. If you have any suspicions that your child is abusing prescription painkillers, seek professional help immediately.
A phone consultation with an established drug rehab center is almost always a good place to start in getting further advice, assessment and treatment information. Don’t delay in seeking help if you’re concerned.