Doing drugs no longer requires a dealer on the street corner.
Between the late 1990′s and 2010 sales of narcotic pain medicines quadrupled in the United States. Hydrocodone use increased by 280%, methadone by 1300%, and oxycodone by 900%. As the consumption of these medicines increased, so did ER visits and deaths from overdose — up by about 500%.
A whole lot of these medicines are not going to medical use. And a lot of the abuse is by our children.
And our kids, they know where to get these medicines. 10% of 8th graders and 45% of 12th graders believe they’re easy to obtain. Pain medicines are kept unsecured and unmonitored in about 75% of homes with teenagers. And over 50% of teens who abused narcotic prescription drugs say they got them from their own friends or family, just by opening a pill bottle, usually in their own homes.
Doctors and parents are both to blame. They get the drugs from us. We need to do a better job protecting our own children.
Doctors need to prescribe carefully, and keep track of refills. Pain has to be treated with more than just narcotics (though narcotics have to be part of the treatment of almost all serious pain.) We need to be careful to look for the early signs of dependence, which can develop into addiction and abuse.
Parents, grandparents, and neighbors need to lock up and keep track of these medications. Pain meds, ADHD meds, any kind of meds — they all can be abused. Set a good example by always using medications as directed.
“Leftovers” should be safely discarded, never hoarded. The best way to discard most medications is in your household trash, mixing the pills or liquid into something unpalatable, like coffee grounds or kitty litter. The FDA advises that some medications are best flushed down the toilet, including most narcotics. Alternatively, some pharmacies and doctors are happy to take back unused medicines to put with medical trash for incineration. (We may not legally be allowed to collect “controlled subtances,” including painkillers and ADHD medications.)
Medications, especially narcotics used for pain relief, are a crucial part of the relief of real suffering for many people. But there’s no doubt that a lot of the narcotics prescribed in the U.S. are being abused. You owe it to your kids — don’t become their drug dealer. Keep those medicines safe.
Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at The Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth through Preschool: A Parent’s Guide and A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child.