Medicine abuse is frequently driven by the false sense of security that prescription drugs are a safer alternative to illicit street drugs because they are approved by the FDA and prescribed by a doctor.

This incorrect assumption is leading to an epidemic of abuse, especially among teens. Research shows that prescription drugs are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12-to-13-year olds, and that 1 in 4 teens report having abused or misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime.

The consequences associated with this behavior are catastrophic. Unintentional drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in our country, thanks to the spike in abuse of prescription painkillers.

Roots of concern

Teens begin abusing medicine for a variety of reasons. Some take prescription pills because they are curious, or think that they will make them feel good. But increasingly, teens are abusing medicine to try to manage their lives.

For some, that means they will self-medicate to escape from their emotions or pain. And still others take prescription painkillers, also known as opiates, to play through injury or escape from problems.

Teens will often get opiate pills from a friend or family member, or other teens who have a doctor’s prescription after an injury or dental procedure. What parents, teachers and coaches need to know is that if taken in excess, even a legitimate prescription can turn into dependence, abuse and addiction.

"Some of those who abuse opiates end up transitioning to using heroin, which is often cheaper or more widely available than prescription opioids."

Halting heroin

What’s happening is that some of those who abuse opiates end up transitioning to using heroin, which is often cheaper and/or more widely available than prescription opioids. In fact, four out of five recent heroin initiates previously abused prescription pain relievers for non-medical use. Teens who never considered using heroin, let alone injecting it through a needle, have found themselves on an unexpected path to heroin addiction.

One preventive measure to halt this trajectory is curbing the supply of prescription opiates available for teens to abuse. We encourage parents to safeguard their medicine, properly dispose of unused and expired medicine and talk early and often with their children about the risks of medicine abuse. There are a number of solutions to help address our country’s reemerging heroin crisis, and communication and safeguarding are two actions that we can take right away. Our kids can’t wait.