by Donna Nahlik, Prevention Specialist II, Chestnut Health Systems
If you went to your medicine cabinet…or wherever you keep medicine in your home…what would you find?
Are the medications all current prescriptions? Are the over-the-counter medications current…or expired?
Do your kids have access to the medications?
National research shows that prescription drug misuse/abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010). In fact, it is estimated that…EVERY DAY in our nation…over 2500 youth (under age 17) misuse or abuse a prescription medication for the first time. Of the people who misuse or abuse prescription medication, 70% of them report getting the medication from a friend or relative. This means that they were either given the drug by a friend or family member…OR…they took it without the individual’s permission.
We also need to consider the connection between prescription drugs and heroin. Law enforcement officials tell us that they see a direct link between these two substances. They report that most heroin addicts started by using alcohol or marijuana and then progressed on to abusing prescription medications. When they could no longer get the prescription drugs for free and buying the drugs gets too expensive, many of these users will turn to heroin because it is cheap and easily accessible.
So, what do we do about it? How do we keep our kids safe?
There are actually several things that parents and other concerned community members can do. One of the first things that parents should do is to educate themselves and their kids on the importance of not sharing or using other people’s prescription drugs! I cannot stress this enough. It is critical that we teach our kids to avoid using any medication that is not intended for them. Just so that we are clear…any use of a prescription drug not specifically ordered by a doctor for the user is considered abuse. These drugs are not safe…they are not OK to use….and doing so may have deadly consequences.
So…when their friend gives your teen a Vicodin (that the friend’s parent was prescribed) because it will make your teen’s shoulder stop hurting… that is prescription drug abuse and is illegal!
Now we know…education is the first step. What is next?
The next step is to thwart access to the medications themselves.
Last week in Edwardsville, our Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and our Coroner Steve Nonn kicked off a campaign aimed at getting potentially dangerous medications out of the hands of our young people. The Lock your Meds campaign is designed to educate parents and other community members about the need to lock up still-needed medication and to dispose of those items that are unwanted or expired. Along with the Drug Free Coalitions of Madison County, Mr. Gibbons’ and Mr. Nonn’s offices will be disseminating posters and other educational material related to the campaign over the next few months.
The idea is simple. Any medication that is still needed should be locked up in a small personal safe that is only accessible by an adult. This will prevent accidental overdoses by very young children, and it will prevent older children from being able to easily take medications from the cabinet. If a medication is not needed any longer, dispose of it in an environmentally safe manner. Do not throw the medications into the trash or flush them down the toilet. Those methods are hazardous to the environment. It is important to dispose of unwanted or expired medication appropriately so that no one can either accidentally or deliberately access it. Rather, take all unwanted or expired medications to a permanent disposal site or take-back day sponsored in your area.
Remember that keeping our kids safe is all of our responsibilities. No parent or grandparent ever wants to think that it will be their child or grandchild that abuses any kind of drug. The reality is that we need to communicate with them…let them know how you feel about drug and alcohol use. Then, we need to make sure that they do not have access to substances that have the potential to cause serious problems, or even death. Our kids are too important. As Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said in a press conference about the Lock your Meds campaign last week, “Lock up your medications. Do not let yourself become an accidental drug dealer.”
The Madison County Sheriff’s Department and the Glen Carbon Police Department will both be participating in the DEA Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, April 28th from 10am-2pm. More information will be posted regarding locations for these events. Permanent drug drop-off locations are located in the Alton, Collinsville, Maryville, Fairmont City, and Caseyville Police Departments.