Prescription drug abuse poses new challenge for grandparents

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | 11:18 a.m. CDT; updated 11:45 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some grandparents have become aware of the fact that they are facing a new challenge. Whether they have grandkids living in their homes or just stopping by to visit, they have learned that their medicine cabinets, or wherever their medications are located, may represent a dangerous temptation to the youngsters. Prescription medicines have become the new drugs of choice for many teenage users and sellers of controlled substances.

In 2008, the Partnership for a Drug Free America's tracking study reported that one in five teens had abused a prescription pain medication, one in five had abused stimulants and tranquilizers and one in 10 had abused cough medication. These categories of prescription medications are the most frequently abused by teenagers.

Apparently, the young people think these types of drugs are safer to use than street drugs simply because they have been prescribed by physicians and they can be easily obtained by removing them from their family's medical supplies. Experts warn parents, however, that teens need to be warned that prescription painkillers are opioids and addictive, just like heroin.

According to this study, some people begin using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes as early as 12 years of age. Younger teens tend to prefer painkillers, while older teens and young adults lean toward stimulants. Girls tended to abuse prescription medications more than boys. The latest craze in teenage entertainment is the pharmaceutical party, where attendees bring their collected pills.

While many parents are aware of this problem and keep their medications out of the reach of their kids, many grandparents, especially those with health problems, often keep their medicines visible and close at hand so they can be available when needed.

Some grandparents fail to realize that the two generations that separate them from their grandchildren have been a time of great change. By way of television and changes in the social environment, teens of today have experienced the fullness of life at a far more rapid pace than any generation before them. In other words, for grandparents to fantasize that their grandchildren share the same degree of innocence and naivete as they did at the same age is to be misguided.

I constantly encounter grandparents who have a totally different attitude toward their grandkids than they did toward their children. While they had strict rules of behavior and curfews for their sons and daughters, they allow their grandchildren to behave according to their own rules. The fact that they are enabling these kids to misbehave doesn't seem to bother them. It's almost as if the role of grandparent has endowed them with such an honored position that they are immune to the consequences of their actions.

For some young people, prescription drugs are only the beginning of a lifetime of addiction. Moving up to methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin can be just a matter of time.

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, in 2006, there were already an estimated 2.1 million teens abusing prescription drugs. Many of them had already been in treatment for addiction to painkillers.

So it's a problem already out of hand.

Another difficulty confronting the elderly is the process of disposal of unwanted and unneeded pills and medications, since they have been advised against flushing them or throwing them into the water systems.

A friend told me just last week that she knew two people who had been arrested on suspicion of possession of controlled substances because they were carrying their medications loose in their pockets and were unable to prove in a timely manner that these were their own medications. Some communities are beginning to establish drug disposal programs. Some authorities suggest that if there are no disposal programs available, people should remove the medications from their bottles, mix them with garbage such as used coffee grounds and put them in plastic bags so they can be thrown in the trash.

Every day, it seems our lives become more complicated, as things invented or manufactured for good purposes are converted to evil purposes. The same medical advances that help people live healthier lives are being used to destroy the lives of others.

Taking responsibility for your prescription medications is the latest in the set of rules governing grandparent-grandchild relationships. Stay tuned. Just as we welcome new medical advances and technology into our lives, there are bound to be more precautions we'll have to take.

Keeping families safe is getting harder every day. Opening our minds to new information keeps us a step ahead.

Let's not lose our way.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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