During this final week of October, our nation recognizes Red Ribbon Week—A week dedicated toward educating teens AND adults about, “No Use of Illegal Drugs, No Illegal Use of Legal Drugs” (www.redribboncoalition.com1). Many schools use much-needed time, effort and energy toward guiding teens away from the use of illegal drugs. This can range anywhere from alcohol (illegal for teenagers) to hard street drugs such as heroin, crack-cocaine or ecstasy. These efforts are valid and needed; however, another angle regarding Red Ribbon Week and teens abusing drugs must be explored: Teens abusing prescription drugs.
The first notions many people need to abandon are these: Just because a doctor prescribes a medicine does not make the medicine safe, does not make the medicine appropriate for that individual, and most importantly, does not give anyone prescribed that medication the permission to take it whenever they feel like it regardless of the doctor’s orders.
Whether or not a medication is safe is a tricky judgment on multiple levels. The first step is finding out if an Rx might have any interactions with any other Rx or Over-the-Counter (OTC) medication that a person might be taking. This is why it is best to have ALL of your prescriptions filled at ONE pharmacy–that way, they will look out for you.
Not every medication is appropriate for every individual—Allergies happen. Anytime your teenager begins a new medication, monitor him/her closely in those first days to make sure there are no signs of allergic reactions (anywhere from nausea or rashes to uncharacteristic behavior). The reality about allergic reactions to medications is this: You do NOT know if you are allergic to a medication until you take it and have an adverse reaction.
Most importantly, and this is where the theme of Red Ribbon Week (No Illegal Use of Legal Drugs) is communicated: Just because you are prescribed a medication, DOES NOT give you the permission to take it beyond your doctor’s guidelines. That DOES NOT give you permission to give out (even for no money) pills or whiffs of your inhaler. Doing so is distributing a controlled substance. Take it a step further and commit those acts for a profit, then you are in even bigger trouble. Teenagers do not get these messages on their own. Their thought process runs something like this: “Well, the doctor prescribed this medicine to me, so it must be safe, and my friend is having some of the same symptoms I had, so I can just give her some of my pills and she’ll be instantly better!” Teenagers do not factor in the concepts that some doctors are irresponsible when giving out prescriptions, some people have adverse reactions to medications either because of interactions or allergic reactions, and finally, they do not get that ‘giving away’ their pills is illegal!
So in the midst of Red Ribbon Week, or ANY OTHER week you see it fit to communicate this message to your teens, this is one they need to absorb. As adults, we cannot expect them to instantly understand the ins and outs of prescription medication. It is up to us to teach them.