Almost 92 million adults in the U.S. took a prescription opioid like OxyContin in 2015, according to a National Survey on Drug Use reported by CBS News. The number for 2019 is likely to be similar, all of which adds up to millions of pills consumed each year. Of those prescribed pills, how many end up in the hands of someone for whom they weren’t prescribed?
It’s not just opioids, either. Stimulants like Adderall are another highly prescribed—and highly abused—class of drugs, especially by young people. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published a study in 2016, finding that Adderall-related emergency room visits had increased 156% between 2006 and 2011, with 60% of the visits involving non-medical Adderall usage by those aged 18-25. The majority reported they had obtained the drug from family or friends.
The use of alcohol is widely accepted by most cultures in the U.S. and is readily available in many homes. Although drinking alcohol is illegal for anyone under 21, a 2015 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism gives some disturbing statistics:
- 33.1% of 15-year-olds report they had a least 1 drink in their life
- About 7.7 million people ages 12-20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month
- About 1.3 million people ages 12-20 reported heavy alcohol use in the past month
- About 5.1 million people ages 12-20 reported binge drinking in the past month
- Almost 40% of college students ages 18-22 reported binge drinking in the past month
The consumer information arm of the Federal Trade Commission says it’s too easy for teens to get alcohol. They found about 72% of teens who drink alcohol say they get it for free from friends or family members, at parties, or by taking it without permission.
The cost is high
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says “unintentional injuries” are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The category includes deaths resulting from fatal drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 130 people die every day in the U.S. from opioid overdose.
Roughly 100,00 Americans die from prescription drug overdoses, while approximately 10,000 die each year from illegal drug use. An estimated 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes.
Drug overdoses and drug poisoning are also two of the most common methods of suicide among young people.
Safeguarding of medications and alcohol can save a life
Surprisingly, the most obvious solution—lock up drugs and alcohol—isn’t done as often as you’d think. Some parents say locking up alcohol violates the trust they’ve established with their children. Others say their children know not to drink alcohol. Still, others may even allow children to drink in the home, sending the message that alcohol use is okay.
The reality of the matter is that most children and other family members who are misusing alcohol or medications are getting them in their own home or the home of a friend. So, besides keeping substances locked up, what else can you do to safeguard those you love?
- Keep track of your own prescriptions. Count your pills, note every time you take one and how many should remain.
- Carefully monitor prescription medications you’re no longer using. Never keep leftover or outdated meds in the home, but always properly dispose of them.
- If you’re not keeping medications locked and accounted for, keep track of your refills to help ensure your pills are not being diverted. It should cause a red flag if you need refills more often than usual.
- Talk to other family members and the parents of your children’s friends about how they store medications and alcohol in their homes. Secure storage is just as vital in places your child spends time as it is in your own home.
- Don’t keep medicine in the bathroom cabinet unless it has a secure lock. The same goes for alcohol.
- Always properly dispose of used needles and syringes in sharps container.
- Talk to kids about the dangers of using nonprescribed or illegal medications, taking medications prescribed for someone else, and drinking while underage.
- Set a good example. Never use illegal drugs, including marijuana, in front of children. Be careful about drinking and serving alcohol, especially in large quantities, in front of your children. Doing so sends a strong message that such use is okay.
- If possible, don’t take medications in front of children. Never put medicines in bottles without child-resistant lids.
- Never approve of underage drinking in your home. It’s illegal for any adult, including a parent, to give alcohol to a person under age 21. You could be jailed or fined for doing so, and if your actions contribute to someone being killed, you will be prosecuted.
- Be aware that teens may obtain medications from illegal online pharmacies. Always control your child’s access to the internet and be aware of their online activity.
Disposal options for unused prescription medications
Resist the impulse to simply flush unused medications, as that can lead to environmental contamination. Don’t toss expired medications in the trash, either, where someone might find it. Instead, check with your local pharmacy to see if they have a medication disposal program or can recommend a community disposal program.
Your community waste program may have an incineration program or other disposal program for unused medications. Some police departments hold special “dispose of your old medicine” events annually. You can also check with your local hospital for proper disposal of unused meds, including needles and syringes.Your pharmacy will probably know of the available programs in your area.
If you must throw medications away, first crush pills and combine with coffee grounds or kitty litter, then seal in a baggie before disposal. Before throwing any empty prescription containers in the trash, be sure to first remove labels that contain your personal information.
Educate yourself on the signs of drug and alcohol abuse
Don’t assume it could never happen to your child: know the signs of alcohol and drug abuse. If you notice sudden changes in sleeping or eating patterns, unusual moodiness or restlessness, a drop in their grades, or a loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, this could be a sign of alcohol or drug use. Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know they can talk to you about anything, without judgement. If you do believe your child may have a drug or alcohol problem but can’t start the conversation, contact an addiction specialist for guidance.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.