Parents, Watch Your Pills: Painkiller and Heroin Use Skyrocketing Among Suburban Teens

Wed, 20/06/2012

Do you leave your strong meds for your back pain in the medicine cabinet without a second thought? Hey, teens don't need childproofing, right? Here's a statistic that might change your thoughts on that: One in eight high school seniors admits they have used prescription painkillers they weren't prescribed, according to a recent national survey conducted by the University of Michigan.

What's worse, teens who get (easily) hooked on $20-$60 pain meds are, in turn, turning to a cheaper and even harder-hitting drug to get their opioid fix: heroin. As NBC Nightly News recently pointed out, widespread painkiller abuse is breeding heroin addiction among suburban U.S. teens.

In many cases, it's the kid next door or the sports team captain from an affluent town and a stable home environment who is getting hooked on the likes of "Oxy" (Oxycodone/OxyContin). Parents who thought, "Surely not my kid" seem to be the ones checking their child into drug rehab -- or worse: finding them dead from a drug overdose. (As NBC points out, drug overdose -- from both prescription and non-prescription drugs -- is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.)

Marijuana still has a reputation of being "the gateway drug," but painkillers seem to be trending to take over, at least as the gateway drug to the "hard stuff." It's pretty easy to imagine why: in our "war on drugs" and non-smoking obsessed culture, something seems more innocent about taking a prescription pill (vs. lighting up, smoking, snorting, or shooting up a drug). These meds are odorless, easily accessed, and simply passed from friend to friend. But one little high is all it takes for many kids to get hooked.

Early summer is a good time to talk with teens about drug and alcohol use. Be sure to go over the dangers of painkillers in this crucial conversation. They now have a strong connection to those "scary" drugs you could never imagine your child using.

Get the facts on prescription drug abuse and heroin from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.