Parents are critical to the fight against prescription drug abuse. Following is advice and resources for parents to help their children navigate safely through their teen and young adult years.
What Parents Can Do
These are some of the key ways that parents can prevent their child’s abuse of prescription drugs or determine if they may already have a problem:
- Educate yourself! Check out the various resources on this site and others to learn as much as you can about the dangers of prescription drugs and how to keep your children and other family members safe from adverse impacts.
- Share the information you’ve learned about prescription drugs with your children. Start discussing medication safety as young as elementary school and teach children not to take medicine from anyone other than a parent, medical provider, or other trusted adults. By middle school, begin discussing the reality of prescription drug dangers, such as addiction and overdose death, and the importance of not mixing medications or alcohol.
- Talk to your child about the extreme dangers of “Pharm” or “Skittles” parties as early as middle school. At these parties, a container such as a bowl or a jar is passed around that includes a mixture of all of the medications the party-goers were able to “score” from friends, family, or whatever medicine cabinets they have been able to access. Alcohol is typically involved, too, which can make this activity even deadlier. No one has any idea what they’re taking- and neither does the ER when things go wrong!
- Discuss the danger of recreationally using street drugs of any sort, as they may be tainted with fentanyl, an illegal and highly potent version of legal pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is showing up in cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and even marijuana. Fentanyl can be mixed with these other drugs, or it may show up in the form of ‘fake’ pills that appear to be drugs such as Xanax, Norco, Vicodin, etc. The use of any street drug could be potentially deadly, and ingesting any amount of fentanyl increases the risk of overdose substantially.
- All middle school, high school, and college students need to know how to respond when a friend is in trouble. Teach your children what the signs of overdose are and how to respond. Check to see if your state has passed a Good Samaritan Law that provides some level of immunity to those who call 911 to report an overdose. Share this information with your child and make sure they know how important it is to report what they believe is an overdose. Explain to them that this is a matter of life and death, as there is typically a window of opportunity to save a life if that call is made early enough in the overdose.
- If your child is injured or must undergo surgery, including tooth extraction, discuss pain management options in advance with your child’s medical provider and the need to avoid or at least minimize the use of opioids to manage pain wherever possible. Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be excellent pain management medications, and unlike opioids, they aren’t addictive or harmful when taken as directed.
- Ensure your home is safe from prescription drug abuse. Lock up your drugs, so your kids and their friends don’t have access to them. Anonymously drop off unused and expired medications at a drop-off site close to you. These drop-off sites are typically located in local pharmacies, police stations, and some hospitals.
- Many overdoses happen at home. Know the warning signs of a prescription drug overdose and call 911 immediately if you suspect your child is in trouble. Public health and harm reduction organizations strongly recommend that you keep a Naloxone opioid overdose rescue kit in your home in case of an emergency, especially if your child has a known opioid dependency. Naloxone, in the form of Narcan, is available over the counter in many states or otherwise via prescription. Most insurance companies cover the cost of these kits, even when purchased over-the-counter. There may also be a harm reduction facility in your area that can provide free Naloxone kits to those who can’t afford to purchase one. Check with your county’s Public Health Department to find a facility near you.
- Get to know your child’s friends and their parents and be on the alert for those who allow underage drinking and the use of other substances in their homes.
- Be wary of sleepovers at your house or another parent’s home. Prescription drugs are easy to hide, and children can easily use them in these settings. Never provide any drugs or alcohol to underage youth.
- Stay closely connected with college students in your life. If they live away from home, visit them frequently and get to know their friends and living environment. Do not stop talking with them about the dangers of using drugs recreationally.
- Do not hesitate to drug test your child if you think there’s any chance they may be using prescription or illegal drugs. Many parents make this a routine beginning in middle school as a wellness check, emphasizing that they drug test because they love their children and want to help them.
- Don’t be naive to think your child won’t get involved with prescription drugs or other substance use/abuse. It happens in the best of families to the best of kids.
The following are ANONYMOUS resources if you need support dealing with your child’s mental health and/or substance use problems:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK)
An anonymous crisis hotline, available 24/7, can help with questions, concerns, and resources related to suicide or drug use. Family and friends concerned about a loved one or anyone interested in mental health or drug treatment referrals can call this Lifeline. Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP)
Offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment—refers callers to treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations that can provide help for their specific needs. Located treatment services near you at Behavioral Health Treatment Services.