By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator
How often do you check your smoke alarm? How frequently do you check your refrigerator for spoiled food? When was the last time you cleaned out your medicine cabinet? Most parents would not have any trouble answering the first two questions, but they may not have given any thought to the last question. With the increasing abuse of over-the-counter and prescription medications by teens, not knowing what is in your medicine cabinet can make you an unwitting accomplice to a dangerous phenomenon.
According to the Partnership for a Drug Free America,
• 1 in 5 teens has tried Vicodin, a powerful and addictive narcotic pain reliever.
• 1 in 10 has tried OxyContin, another prescription narcotic.
• 1 in 10 has used the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall for non-medical purposes.
• 1 in 11 teens has admitted to getting high on cough medicine.
• 60% of teens who have abused prescription painkillers did so before age 15.
• There are as many new abusers ages 12-17 of prescription drugs as there are of marijuana.
One more sobering fact: According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), pharmaceuticals were involved in 95.4% of drug-related suicide attempts among adolescents in 2008.
These are frightening statistics, especially when you consider that the source of many of these drugs is the average person’s home medicine cabinet. How often do we hold on to painkillers because we may need them at a future time? How lax are we about knowing how many pills may be in any medicine bottle? How quick are we to self medicate with what’s available to us at home?
What can parents do to avoid being enablers to their teens’ abuse of medications?
• Periodically check your medicine cabinet to throw away what’s not being used and medications that have expired.
• Periodically check your medicine cabinet to assess what’s on the shelves and how much of each medication is still there. One way to do this is to leave a small piece of paper with the date, number of pills, and your signature inside the pill bottle. Repeat this process each time you use a pill from that bottle. This might make a “pilferer” think twice about taking any of the pills.
• Communicate to your child, age-appropriately, what medications you take and why. What you take may provide the impetus for ongoing conversations about the importance of taking medicines only when needed, in the designated amount, and, for prescription medications, only by the person for whom the medicine was prescribed.
• Choose to keep medications in an easily monitored place other than the medicine cabinet.
• Do not keep medications in a place that may be easily accessed by your children’s friends.
• From as early an age as possible, have your children develop a healthy respect for any type of drug, including medicine.
As parents, we are all concerned about keeping our homes as safe as possible. In today’s world, that concern for our children’s safety means that we must be vigilant about knowing what drugs are in our homes and how to make sure those drugs are used only for the purpose intended.
Websites you can check for more information include:
• Jewish Community Services Prevention Education (http://www.jcsbaltimore.org/prevention)
• The Partnership for a Drug Free America (http://www.drugfree.org)
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (http://www.samhsa.gov)
• National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (http://www.drugabuse.gov)
• Time To Get Help developed by The Partnership@Drugfree.org (drugfree.org/timetogethelp)
By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
Questions about parenting? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.