Prescription drug abuse is a national problem affecting people of all ages and backgrounds.
Teens and young adults are especially susceptible to prescription drug abuse.
Fairfax County is not immune to this problem. In fact, in the 2012 Fairfax County Youth Survey, more than 1 in 10 Fairfax County middle and high school students reported using narcotic pain relievers without a prescription.
Prescription drug abuse differs from other drug abuse in several ways.
- More than 70% of those who abuse prescription drugs get them from a friend or relative, frequently without their knowledge and at no cost.
- Some teens and young adults buy pills from friends or classmates, not from a typical “drug dealer,” or purchase them on the internet.
- Prescription drugs are easily available from a home medicine cabinet. No dealer is required and if not properly monitored, no one will know that they are missing.
- Many people, especially teens and young adults, think that taking another person’s prescription drug is “safer” than taking an illegal substance. But misusing a prescription drug can lead to dependency, addiction, a trip to the emergency room, or even death.
What kind of prescription drugs are we talking about and why would someone take them?
- Some teens and young adults take powerful painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin or tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium to get high.
- Students are abusing prescription drugs prescribed for ADD and ADHD to cram for exams and focus on their schoolwork.
- Teens and young adults may abuse amphetamines to lose weight or steroids to bulk up.
- Sometimes, misusing prescription drugs may be a form of experimentation or a means to self-medicate, reduce stress, or relieve boredom.
- Some teens host “pharm” parties. Teens bring pills to parties and take them randomly, often with alcohol.
What do parents need to know?
- First, talk with your children of all ages about the risks of prescription drug abuse and accidental overdose. And let them know that mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be extremely dangerous. You may not always believe it, but they are listening.
- Second, monitor medication usage by family members and count your pills. Be sure to monitor your elderly parents’ pills as well to make sure that none are missing.
- Third, secure your prescriptions the same way you secure other valuables in your home, such as cash or jewelry. Buy a lockbox, if necessary. Don’t leave them out where they can be taken by trades people or visitors to your home.
- Never allow sharing of medications.
- Don’t keep unused medications for “later on.” Dispose of unused medications in a timely manner.
- Dispose of medications (prescription and non-prescription) properly.
Why is it important to properly dispose of my unused prescription medications?
- You will help to prevent possible drug misuse.
- You will help prevent accidental poisoning or overdosing
- You will protect the environment by keeping harmful medicines out of our waterways and away from wildlife.
So, how do I get rid of my unused or expired prescription medications?
- NEVER flush medication down the toilet or drain unless you are specifically instructed to do so.
- You can participate in a community take-back event. Saturday, Sept. 27 is the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day (download flyer). But don't hoard your meds until there is a take-back day.
- Dispose of expired and unused prescription and over the counter drugs safely and easily at home. Follow these easy directions.
- Remove personal information from the medication container (sometimes you have to scratch it out) and discard it.
- Dilute the medication in a sealed container or sealable bag with cat box litter or used coffee grounds. Dishwashing liquid can also be used, if necessary.
- Throw away the sealed container or sealed bag in a trash can. DO NOT RECYCLE.
- Contact your local pharmacy to purchase a postage-paid medication disposal envelope. They cost about $5.
Where can I get more information about prescription drug abuse?
- Unified Prevention Coalition Fact Card (PDF version)
UPC Media Briefing on Prescription Drug Abuse
The Unified Prevention Coalition, in collaboration with the Fairfax County Police Department and other Fairfax County partners, held a media briefing on May 14 about prescription drug abuse and the May 27-June 1 Operation Medicine Cabinet Cleanout. See some of the coverage: