Prescription Drug Misuse

misuse of prescription drugs

You might not realize it, but you likely know a drug abuser…the kid in your math study group popping ADHD drugs the night before a test so he can pull an all-nighter without getting tired… friends at a party washing down a trail mix of their parents’ prescription pills with a beer for a little extra fun….teens too young to legally drink buzzing from over-the-counter cough syrup because it’s so much easier to score than liquor…

Sound familiar? For a growing number of young adults today, these scenarios are the norm in school, at parties and in their communities. Kids and teens are turning to over-the-counter and prescription meds at an alarming rate. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than an estimated 2.2 million youth in the United States aged 12 to 17 used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in the past year!* Some used meds in an effort to improve their performance — like the student using ADHD meds to stay up late to cram for his test. Others, like the party-goers experimenting with their parents’ pills and alcohol, used prescriptions for recreation. Still others turned to prescription and over-the-counter meds to improve their appearance, self-treat physical and mental issues or simply to fit in. Perhaps these kids wouldn’t be so eager for drug-fueled shortcuts and highs if they knew how potentially deadly prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse can be.

Most kids and teens incorrectly assume that prescriptions are safe for anyone to take because they are given by a doctor. Sure, prescription drugs are typically safe and helpful when used correctly by the person they are prescribed for. That’s because doctors thoroughly examine their patients before prescribing medication for a specific problem and carefully review their patients’ medical history to ensure the medications prescribed help them — not hurt them — when used the right way. Plus, doctors also take care to instruct their patients on the best way to take their prescriptions and what they need to avoid while using them. When mixed with different substances like alcohol, nicotine, certain foods or other medications, some prescriptions can prove unsafe or toxic. But take a drug that hasn’t been prescribed to you or simply use a drug in an inappropriate way and the results can be debilitating, addictive or even deadly — not to mention illegal!

That’s right. The guy at the first table on the left in the cafeteria, who always has random meds from his mom’s medicine cabinet with him, just in case someone needs a little something to take the edge off, is breaking the law. He may not be your stereotypical street drug dealer but he’s a drug dealer nonetheless in the eyes of the law. He knows that you can become dependent on depressants and stimulants — that after awhile you’ll need these drugs to function on a regular basis and you’ll come back to him for more. That’s how he makes his money. But if he gets caught selling — and if you get caught with illegal drugs in your possession — you could both be arrested.

And while being arrested is a scary thought, it pales in comparison to dying. Simply taking too many or the wrong combinations of drugs — even just once — can be lethal. And addiction is a disease that can lead to death if it isn’t treated. In fact, addiction is one of the leading causes of death in the United States! That means, if you or a friend is addicted to drugs, prescription or otherwise, the time to get help is NOW. So how do you know if a friend or family member is struggling with addiction? Often, if someone has a drug problem they exhibit signs like severe mood swings, depression, and secretive behavior. You might notice subtle changes, like your friend will only go to parties where she’s certain there will be alcohol and drugs. Maybe he is hanging out with a new, strung-out crowd. Some people go to extremes — even stealing money and committing crimes to support their growing habit. If you notice these signs or have a feeling someone you know is experimenting with prescription or over-the-counter medication trust your instincts and let someone know. Alert an adult you trust like a parent, teacher or school counselor. They’ll be able to reach out to the person in trouble and get them the help they need. And don’t be afraid of hurting your friendship. According to a national survey of people in recovery, 69% said they got help because a friend or relative was honest with them about their substance use. And another 41 percent said they would have gotten help sooner if those closest to them had expressed their fears and concerns.**

If it’s your substance abuse that has gotten out of control, take the first step in helping yourself by talking to someone you trust — a family member, a friend or even our hotline at 516-747-2606. No high is worth putting your life on the line.