Parents: Hialeah Students Abusing OTC Medications Are Not Alone. Lock Your Meds®

Op-Ed Piece or Letter to the Editor for General Release

President, Informed Families/The Florida Family Partnership

The dozen students at Hialeah Middle School who were hospitalized after taking over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants at school this week are part of an alarming and growing trend with our nation’s youth. Every day, more than 4,000 children and young adults begin experimenting with prescription and OTC drugs as a way to get high. In fact, these are the drugs of choice among children as young as 12. And, the sad news is, the age of such experimentation is beginning to drop.

Many adolescents believe that since the medicines were prescribed by doctors or given to them by their parents when they were sick, they are not harmful when abused. To many teens, prescription or OTC drugs provide an inexpensive, legal and medically safe high. According to recent studies, 7.3 million young people believe there’s nothing wrong with using non-prescribed medicines periodically and that parents “don’t care as much if you get caught.”

Where do they get these drugs? Look around your home . . . what’s in your medicine cabinet, on your kitchen counter or beside your bed, in your purse or coat pocket? Seventy percent of abusers get their drugs from relatives or friends, not from street pushers.

Medicines can turn into dangerous substances in the wrong hands. Between 1999-2004, 20,950 people died from an overdose of prescription drugs – that’s more than cocaine and heroin combined.

Many kids are taking their parents’ pain relievers, their grandparents’ tranquilizers, their brothers’ Ritalin, their aunts’ herbal diet pills . . . whatever they can get their hands on to alter their moods and behaviors. They may use their own lingo to secretly communicate with each other about these drugs. For example, you go “fishing” for grouper, they go “phishing” for pharmaceuticals. Kibbles & Bits may be something you feed your dog, but that’s Ritalin to many abusers. And, there’s a football team in Minnesota called the Vikings, but it’s also a slang name given to the pain reliever, Vicodin.

Parents often wonder why teens feel the need to abuse prescription or OTC drugs. They have many reasons, such as wanting to be accepted by their peers, needing to cope better with life’s stresses, relieving depression and anxiety, sleeping better, or increasing their concentration power in school. Some want to control their weight. Others want to self-medicate to relieve pain. In all likelihood, the Hialeah Middle School students wanted to get high. They were lucky this time– some became violently ill, but fortunately, no one overdosed and died.

Teen abuse of prescription and OTC drugs is fast becoming one of our nation’s biggest problems. The National Family Partnership®, along with King Pharmaceuticals, has launched a national campaign called Lock Your Meds® to alert adults about this disturbing trend and to provide ideas for prevention. We can all be part of the solution by removing drugs from our medicine cabinet or handy household spot