As parents, relatives, teachers and concerned adults, we spend a lot of time helping teens circumvent the challenges that could ruin their lives. Yes, for all we do, it is their peers that seem to have the most influence.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is substance abuse. We talk to them about the hazards of underage alcohol use and the problems associated with abusing marijuana and other dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. According to national statistics, we're making progress, with most illicit drug use decreasing over time.
What has not seen a decline is the nonmedical use of prescription medications. According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, one in five teens in the United States, or 4.5 million young people, have abused prescription drugs. They are abusing these medications to get high, fall asleep, wake up and deal with stress.
Local statistics from the 2010 Tompkins County Youth Development Survey indicate that 18 percent of Tompkins County, New York high-schoolers have abused prescription drugs. These same youth have double the alcohol use rates (60 percent) and triple the binge-drinking rates (57 percent) of other local high-schoolers who have not abused prescription drugs, further magnifying their risk.
Teens believe that because prescription medications are legal, they are safer than their illicit counterparts, making these medications the statistical drug of choice after marijuana. Prescription drugs are also easy to get. The 2010 survey showed that 62 percent of Tompkins County high- schoolers who use prescription medications non-medically reported getting them for free, often taking them from their home or a friend's or relative's home without asking.
How do we protect the rights of those who need these medications to relieve pain while also preventing their abuse? We have to sound the alarm to parents and adult caregivers that prescription drugs are a source of grave concern. Teens are abusing these drugs. Adults need to lock up their meds, keep track of their medication quantities and learn how to properly dispose of unused medications.