Prince is seemingly now part of a rising death toll related to opioid use, and his death spotlights a growing threat to the health and safety of teens and adults alike. Two years ago, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 28,000 deaths from opioid overdose. Today, it reports two million Americans are addicted to these medications.
The reason opioids like morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone are problematic is that they are highly addictive and increasingly over-prescribed by doctors - so much so that the CDC recently had to publish guidelines for prescribing physicians. Prescription opioids are also to blame for a rise in domestic heroin use, because it is a much cheaper (1/8th the price) opioid alternative to get the same "high" that young people seek from pain killers. Half of heroin-using teens started with abusing prescription drugs.
Most parents are unaware of both how common prescription medicine abuse has become in high schools across America, and how easy it is for young people to acquire pills in their own homes and classrooms. Prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12 to 13 year olds. And, medications like Adderall, a commonly prescribed ADHD medication, are being sold peer-to-peer in academically competitive settings as a "normal" way for kids to focus and stay awake for long study hours.
So, as parents, how can we help educate, and protect our kids from the unhealthy use of prescription drugs? Here are five simple steps:
1. Know what's in your home. 2/3 of teens who report the abuse of medicine, find them in their own homes, from relatives or friends. It is common after any kind of surgery for pain killer opioids to be prescribed and left in the medicine cabinet. All medications should be stored somewhere they can be counted and not easily accessed. Learn more about the safe disposal of medicines here.
2. Model appropriate stress and pain management. How many times have you come home after a stressful day at work and said "I need a drink!"? The subtle ways we communicate about how to deal with sadness, stress or disappointment teach important lessons to our kids. Similarly, avoiding the use of medication to address every feeling, occasional bad night of sleep, stress and pain, teaches our kids to find healthier ways to manage the normal rhythms of life that can often be addressed with diet, exercise, routine and rest.
3. Understand the legal risks. At a recent event in Austin, Texas, a Mom of a sophomore boy at an exemplary high school, stood up sobbing. "I could never imagine, but we just learned a hard lesson when my son was arrested and given a felony for possessing one pill without a prescription." While laws vary state-to-state, most opioids are classified as narcotics and can come with a hefty fine, jail time and a permanent criminal record for possession without a prescription. The same is true of almost any prescription medication.
4. Talk about the medical risks. Each type of medication comes with different risks, but even seemingly harmless medications, like Adderall, can interrupt important brain function and development at a time when a teen's body is at its most critical point. There are countless short and long term consequences to taking non-prescribed prescriptions that, in the worst case scenario, can lead to death. There are excellent resources like this website to facilitate conversation with your teens.
5. Monitor online behavior. Unfortunately, opioids can be accessed online. More than 97 percent of online pharmacies are illegitimate, and many purport to sell opioids without a prescription. These "medicines" come with even greater health risks because they are counterfeit and often laced with unsafe chemicals. In some cases, teens have ordered these narcotics online and easily had them delivered with their daily mail. Awareness, education and monitoring online behavior can help address this epidemic.
The loss of the great artistry and talent of Prince sent a shock wave around the world and his death is a tragedy. But it is also a learning opportunity. Take the time to help educate your child about and give voice to an issue that transcends fame and fortune, and touches every neighborhood.
Marjorie Clifton is a Fox News Commentator and Executive Director of the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), a coalition of 11 major Internet commerce companies including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Paypal, Mastercard, Discover, Amex, GoDaddy, Rightside and UPS; which aims to educate consumers about the health risks associated with fake medicines from illegitimate online pharmacies. Visit www.safemedsonline.org for more information.