When you think about teens and drugs, pot and alcohol come quickly to mind. But if you take a peek in Answers, you'll see that teen prescription drug abuse is also a huge problem. It's scary to read some of the comments from moms who are living it.
"I knew a girl who overdosed and died on methadone two years ago. She was 17."
"I'm dealing with it now. My 16 year old and three of her friends were caught exchanging pills."
"I'm 18 now. When I was maybe 13 or 14 I knew A LOT of people that would take like five Lortabs and other crap. I wasn't into that crap but had some friends that did and knew a lot that did."
Dr. Drew Pinsky from the group Stop Medicine Abuse Now, offered to answer some specific questions I had about this growing problem. You might know Dr. Pinsky from television -- he produces and hosts the VH1 show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and the MTV show Sex ... With Mom and Dad.
Here's my interview with him ...
What exactly is medicine abuse and how common is it really?
Recent studies suggest that one out of ten, that's 2.4 million teens, abuse over-the-counter cough medicines to get high.
What medicines do teens like?
They're mostly interested in getting the highest dose of dextromethorphan (DM or DXM) possible -- that's the drug that they use in 25-50 times the recommended dose. DMX is found most commonly in cough medications including syrups, lozenges and tablets. They may drink several bottles of cough syrup, ingest multiple blister packs of DXM-containing pills, or even access the raw commercial form of DXM online.
Should parents hide these medications or always keep them out of site?
Hiding is in my opinion, never a good idea when it comes to parenting. It's not about hiding, it's about making a statement. Locking away is not hiding, and I'm all for locking things away. You're sending a clear message when you lock something away that you're handling it with care and concern.
What are the top signs that your child may be taking or abusing medicine?
Finding any of the paraphernalia associated with the drug is a very big tip-off, including empty bottles or blister packs should be a warning to parents. Kids go to great lengths to hide these sorts of behaviors, so if they become sloppy enough to come to your attention, that's a very significant sign.
Above and beyond that, signs and symptoms of OTC cough medicine abuse are the same as any other mental health issue. If there are drops in grades, changes in peer groups, appearance, and sleep cycle and these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, that should be a warning to parents. When you add that to the discovery of paraphernalia it's no longer a prevention issue -- now it's time for professional intervention.
What's the potential for harm?
This is a safe and effective medication, so when used properly fatalities and addiction are unheard of. When used at 50 times the recommended doses as some teens are doing, there's always the potential for harm. Is it common? No. But it's certainly a significant risk when abused.
DXM abuse can cause what we call "serotonin syndrome," when DXM is combined with a common class of anti-depressants and can cause a fatal reaction. DXM also alters the liver's metabolic rate, which can change the way the body metabolizes other medications and can produce a deadly reaction. While it can become addictive, that's a relatively uncommon complication.
Where can parents turn for help and more information?
There are some great resources for parents at Stop Medicine Abuse -- everything from how to talk with your teen, potential signs of abuse, and tips for preventing this behavior. The manufacturers of these medicines have also put a warning on all packages of products containing DXM, so parents can look for this icon to help identify which products they should be monitoring closely.
Do you keep certain tempting medications locked away from your teen or do you keep them with the rest of your prescription drugs?