A new survey by the group, Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ), found that more than 70 percent of parents recognize that their own medicine cabinets are an access point for drugs. Every day over 5,000 teens experiment with drugs for the first time, abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs that they get from medicine cabinets at home and in their friends’ homes. On a recent episode of NJ Today, PDFNJ Executive Director Angelo Valente discussed the problem, and potential solutions.
“Several years ago, this issue [teen prescription drug abuse] was really not on the radar screen,” said Valente. “And today we’re finding that an overwhelming majority of parents are acknowledging this issue and taking steps within their own home to help protect their families.”
Abuse of prescription drugs like anti-anxiety medications, stimulants and especially pain killers like OxyCodone, has risen sharply in recent years. While new electronic prescription monitoring programs, like the one announced by New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa in January, help reduce the number of addicts and drug dealers working the system to get pills they don’t really need, they don’t solve the problem of teens stealing prescriptions at home.
Valente said a big part of the problem is that 60 percent of parents with teenagers reported that they did not take an inventory of their home medicine cabinets within the past two months. In addition, only 17 percent of parents said they have disposed of their unused or expired prescription medications at a local disposal site, so no one is keeping an eye on old pills that can still deliver a high.
A frightening aspect of prescription drug abuse is its escalation to illegal drug use, which Valente explained is confirmed by the rehabilitation community and law enforcement. “Those who are becoming addicted [to prescription drugs], move on to heroin,” he said.
Teens have a false sense of safety when experimenting with over-the-counter or prescription drugs they find at home. “There is a misperception among young people that because these drugs are prescribed by doctors and grandma takes them, or they might see a television commercial about some of the benefits, that it’s safe for them to experiment. We know the complete opposite is true. These drugs can become very addictive.”