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Prescription drug abuse dramatically on the rise in Colorado

Have you talked to your teens about staying away from cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs? Good. Pat yourself on the back for that, but get ready for your next uncomfortable parent-child conversation. Prescription drug abuse has been on the rise among teens nation-wide for several years now, and Colorado is no exception.


In 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment (CDPHE), prescription drug abuse led to more than twice as many deaths as did car accidents. In that same year, according to the Denver Office of Drug Strategy (DODS), more than half of drug-related deaths in Denver were due to prescription drug abuse. Nation-wide, about 20% of teens report having taken prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them. In Denver, that number is closer to 1/3.

As these rather scary statistics indicate, it’s time for you to sit down with your kid (maybe even over dinner on Family Day this September 24th), and have a heart-to-heart about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and addiction.


Why teens abuse prescription drugs

The teen years are a time of experimentation with a lot of potentially harmful activities, including drinking, smoking, sexual exploration, and drug abuse. Among all these options for getting into trouble, prescription drugs are uniquely attractive.

  • Easy availability – They’re often unattended in the medicine cabinet; kids can get leftover pills from friends’ prescriptions; people with prescriptions will sell pills; prescription fraud, where a fraudulent prescription is submitted to a pharmacist who unknowingly fills it. It’s common to hear teen users say that it’s easier to get a fake prescription filled than it is to get beer.
  • Ease of use – You don’t need any special equipment beyond a glass of water to take a pill.
  • The illusion of safety – Users tell themselves that because a Doctor prescribes these drugs, they can’t be that dangerous. Some of these drugs are even given to little kids. If they’re just around the house anyway, and my little sister takes them, how bad can they be?
  • Don’t realize it’s actually illegal  Since the drugs are readily available around the house, younger abusers may not realize what they’re doing is illegal and dangerous.

What are the drugs?

Most commonly abused prescription drugs fall into one of 3 categories.


Oxycontin, Vicodin and Demerol (painkillers) – Can lead to vomiting, mood changes, decrease in ability to think or concentrate, decreased respiratory function, coma, or death.

Nembutal, Valium and Xanax (depressants) – Taking depressants with other medications, such as prescription painkillers, some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, or alcohol can slow a person’s heartbeat and breathing — and even kill.

Ritalin and Adderol (stimulants) –  Could cause heart failure or seizures.

How do you know if your child or a friend is abusing prescription drugs?

In a lot of ways the signs are not much different from when they start drinking, smoking, or abusing illegal drugs.

  • Mood swings
  • Significant, sudden fluctuations in weight
  • Changes in interests
  • A sudden drop in grades or decreased ability to concentrate at school

What you can do

Pretty scary stuff. But as a parent, or even as a friend of potential users, you’re not helpless against this threat.

  • Talk to your kids about the dangers – Talking to your kids is one of your most powerful parenting tools. Let them know that you love them, demonstrate that you’re interested and engaged in their lives, and encourage real, candid conversations about prescription drugs. Explain to them the dangers of overdose and addiction outlined above. But most importantly be empathetic and honest with them.
  • Don’t discuss your medications more than is necessary – While you don’t want to be dishonest, you also don’t want to give your kids any bad ideas.
  • Lock your meds up – Don’t leave your medications in the family bathroom’s medicine cabinet if you have a more secure storage option, like a locked cabinet in your master bedroom, or a closet shelf hiding spot. This includes pet medications as well.
  • Count your pills – Make sure you know how many pills were in the prescription initially, keep track of your own usage, and once a week or so, count them to make sure the numbers add up.
  • Dispose of medications properly when you’re done with them – Don’t keep expired prescription drugs, or pills you don’t need anymore around the house. Colorado has a “Take Back,” program,” for the collection of unwanted or unused household medications. The DEA is also sponsoring a national prescription drug take-back day on September 29th, 2012. For more information about disposing of your unused medicine check out the SmartRX Disposal Website. It is not recommended that you flush these medications down the toilet, as they are prone to contaminate our drinking water supply.
  • Talk to a doctor if you suspect you, your child or parent, or a friend is abusing prescription medications  A medical professional will know where you can get the information or help you need. If you know of someone who is trying to kick prescription drugs, they also need to talk to a doctor as many of these drugs have nasty, nasty withdrawal symptoms.


As with nearly every substance issue we deal with here at d-RAP, we find that the most effective way to prevent abuse is honest, engaged parenting, based on trust, love and communication.

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