The Real Gateway Drugs: Talking to Your Kids about Prescription Drug Abuse

While the “gateway theory” itself has been generally discredited (meaning that no drug causes a biological impulse to consume other, harder drugs), there is little doubt that abuse of certain substances can definitely increase a young person’s likelihood to abuse other substances. The most common and potentially dangerous example of one form of drug abuse leading to another is the abuse of prescription opioid medications followed by heroin addiction. According to the National Institute of Health, one in fifteen people who take prescriptions painkillers prescribed to someone else or for a reason other than the one specified at the time of prescription will try heroin within ten years.

As heroin overdoses have become increasingly common in well-to-do areas, suburbs, and even rural regions, parents are waking up to the terrifying reality that any teenager may very well be susceptible to opioid abuse and addiction, even their own. The best way for you to help prevent these life-altering mistakes is to talk to your children before pill abuse or drug addiction is an issue for them.

More Overdose Deaths on Prescription Opioids

There is often a perception among the young that because they are “legal,” prescription and over-the-counter drugs can’t be abused. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and it is our responsibility as  parents to disabuse our children of this notion. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the years from 1999 to 2010, the number of annual deaths as a result of overdosing on prescription opioids quadrupled. These days, there are more prescription opioid overdose deaths each year than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. Even more frightening, roughly half of heroin users report that they started by abusing prescription opioid painkillers.

Other Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Although opioids are some of the more commonly abused prescription drugs, it is important to discuss other types of prescription drugs that can be abused, such as Ritalin and other stimulants like Adderall, or prescription depressants, including Valium and Xanax. Like opioids, these drugs can be easy to accidentally overdose on and can lead to biological dependence on the drug. These medications should only be taken by the people they are prescribed to, and abusing them can cause serious health issues, as well as possible legal problems.

Even over-the-counter medicines can be abused, as exemplified by cough suppressants. While the popularity of this drug has decreased since the late 1990s, some teenagers are still abusing them by mixing liquid cough syrup with soda or by taking capsules, usually several times over the recommended dosage. In addition to being illegal, there is a risk of dependence and overdose in the recreational abuse of cough suppressants. Just because anyone can buy these drugs over the counter does not mean they are safe in doses that are double or more the recommended dosage, especially if mixed with other drugs, such as alcohol.

Talk to Your Children

As the adult in the situation, it is imperative that you take precautionary steps to minimize the possibility of any of your prescription drugs being abused. Even if you believe there is no possibility of your child stealing or abusing your medications, any one of their friends (or even their friend’s parents) could decide to help themselves to a controlled substance in your possession if it is out in the open, on a dresser, or stored in a medicine cabinet. Error on the side of caution: Use a safe or lock box to store any prescription painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants, even those you are currently taking. If your medical issues resolve themselves and you have leftover prescription medication, you may also want to call your local police department or pharmacy to see if they offer a safe disposal location.

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