In February, there was a sizeable drug bust at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The media covered the story in great detail. While making my morning coffee, one update stopped me dead in my tracks. Marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy were seized in the raid -- along with prescription drugs.
I'd just been talking with several parents, as well as adolescent patients, about the escalating use of prescription drugs in our community, especially among high school students, and TCU is in our "backyard."
This was another wake up call. While teens and college students across the country may not be using as many illicit drugs, their new "drugs of choice" are prescription drugs. They deem these drugs to be legal and "safer," as well as easier to obtain. This is alarming on so many different fronts.
A report in 2009 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 20 percent of teens had admitted to having taken a prescription medication, without a prescription.
In 2010, the Monitoring the Future survey found that prescription drugs were the most commonly used drugs after alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. Lastly, another study among adolescents reported that 7.7 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds reported misuse of prescription drugs. Teens, unfortunately, believe that prescription drugs are "safer" to use than illicit drugs. Unfortunately, they're dead wrong.
Whitney Houston's untimely death looks to be most likely secondary to some mixture of prescription drugs. Rumors about Demi Moore's recent hospitalization swirl around prescription drug abuse (along with "something" else).
The most commonly abused prescription drugs fall into several categories, including: painkillers (Vicodan, Percocet, oxycontin), stimulants (used for ADHD such as Adderall, Ritalin), and depressants (used for anxiety and sleep, such as Xanax, Valium, klonopin). While all of these classes of drugs are safe when used appropriately, when taken illegally and in combination, the side effects can kill you. Mix any of these with alcohol, as so many teens and young adults are doing, and you may have respiratory depression and then your heart can stop!
I hear reports of teens taking pills which were typically obtained from a "friend's" parents' medicine cabinet. Several students in my area have been hospitalized due to a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. It's amazing to me how many households have many of the drugs mentioned above just sitting around in their medicine cabinets.
I've also talked with college students who've come home due to a viral illness, such as mono, and have reported to my office for follow up care. They've brought along narcotics the student health center gave them for a painful sore throat, or pills to help them sleep while they were sick. Unbelievably, there were a lot of pills prescribed for a fairly short illness and several bottles even had refills! What are doctors thinking?
Parents need to lock up medications in the home, just as they'd lock a liquor cabinet. While teens coming over to hang out used to steal beer from the refrigerator, they're now heading to the bathroom to pocket bottles of Xanax from the medicine cabinet. Scary stuff.
Talk to your tweens/teens/young adults about the risks surrounding the use of prescription medications when the drugs have not been prescribed. Discuss alcohol and drugs in combination. Show them the headlines in the news. The problem is real.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun