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Do You Leave Unused Prescription Drugs at Home with Your Teen?

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Has your child ever been prescribed an opioid drug? Has he or she taken painkillers such as OxyContin following surgery? If yes, did your teen complete the full prescription? Or were there pills leftover? Did your provider instruct you on how to dispose of the excess medication?

Every prescription left in your medicine cabinet – whether Xanax or Percocet, Vicodin or Adderall – puts your child and his or her friends at high risk of drug abuse. As a parent, it is imperative to take proper measures in your home to protect your child from prescription drug addiction down the road.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans aged 14 and older, directly following marijuana and alcohol. Each day, more than 1,600 teenagers begin abusing prescription drugs. The majority of these teens, 62 percent, do so because the drugs are “easy to get from parent’s medicine cabinets.”

Just this past Spring, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan released the National Poll on Children’s Health, a report surrounding the frequency (and the dangers) of keeping prescription drugs in the home. The report found that when children are prescribed opioid painkillers for surgery or illness, about half of their parents keep the leftover medicine on hand.

“This is a missed opportunity to prevent prescription drug misuse among children. Many parents simply keep extra pain pills in their home. Those leftover pills represent easy access to narcotics for teens and their friends,” says Sarah J. Clark, MPH, co-director of the poll and associate research scientist at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The risks of keeping prescription opiates in the home become clear when you consider the extreme dangers of these drugs. Opiates are the largest contributor to drug-related deaths in the United States, the leading cause of drug overdose, and are undoubtedly of the most addictive prescription drugs today. A physical painkiller addiction can develop within four weeks’ time, while a psychological dependence can develop in as little as two days. If your teen frequently took prescription drugs for an athletic injury or post-surgery relief, there is a chance he or she may already be hooked.

Keeping prescription drugs in the home not only provides easy access for children but also makes them think that the misuse of these drugs is simply “not a big deal.” Today, about 35 percent of teens believe that prescription drugs are always safe. They have taken them before, so that must mean they can take them again just fine. 21 percent of teens reason that their parents wouldn’t care, should they get caught with these drugs. The drugs came from their medicine cabinet, after all.


How to Dispose of Prescription Drugs Safely

If your child’s provider did not teach you how to dispose of prescription drugs following treatment, you are not alone. Of the 1,200 parents surveyed in the National Poll on Children’s Health, two-thirds did not discuss prescription disposal options (or the lack of risks) with a doctor.

Of the parents surveyed, only 8 percent knew to return the leftover drugs to a pharmacy or doctor; 30 percent disposed of the medication in the trash or toilet; 6 percent passed the medication along to other family members, and 9 percent could not recall where the medications went.

So what’s the best way to dispose of prescription pills? How can you prevent your teen from accessing these drugs in the future?

Unused prescription drugs should be returned to a doctor or pharmacy, given to a local take-back program, or safely disposed of in the trash. According to the FDA, parents should:

  • Follow the specific guidelines on the prescription label. Do not flush medications down the sink or toilet unless specifically instructed to do so.
  • Find a local take-back program in your area that will take unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Ask your community law enforcement officials for more information.
  • Find a registered collector in your area, who is by the Drug Enforcement Administration to take back unused medications and recycle or dispose of them properly. These may be retail, hospital, pharmacy, or “drop-box” locations.
  • If no specific instructions are given for disposal, remove the medications from their original containers and mix them with another substance (coffee, kitty litter, etc.) to make them less appealing. Place them in a sealable bag or container to prevent them from leaking out.
  • Do not give to family or friends. Medications are prescribed according to specific symptoms and medical histories: What worked for your child may not work for someone else.

As parents, educators, and healthcare providers, we must take advantage of every opportunity to prevent this opioid epidemic from rising further. We must protect our children in every means we can. By reducing the number of prescription drugs in our homes, we can reduce the number of opiate overdoses and addictions among our youth.

To learn about our prescription drug treatment center for adolescents and young adults, contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 or start exploring our young adult drug rehab programs today.