How to prevent teen prescription drug abuse

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on April 30, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

Washington state has only a few prescription drug drop off boxes. But they're making a haul.

"You have oxycontin," explained Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza as he showed off contents of a box collected at one of the drop off sites.

The drugs often get dropped off straight from family medicine cabinets. But many more are getting into the hands of kids who want to get high.

"I've had parents say, 'well at least it's not alcohol. At least it's not marijuana. At least it's not cocaine,' not understanding the devastating effect prescription drug abuse can have on adolescents," said Dr. Leslie Walker, Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's.

"We were naive about their danger for abuse, and would have locked them up if we had known," said John Gahagan.

Gahagan spoke out recently about the prescription drugs that his son Sean started using his senior year of high school. They got Sean into treatment and thought he had overcome his addiction.

"And then 5 weeks after his graduation, he relapsed and died of an overdose," Gahagan said.

Prescription drugs and heroin were found in Sean's system.

That combination is not a surprise to Dr. Walker.

"They get addicted. They run out of their parent's medication. They go to the street, or to somebody at school. There's always somebody at school selling narcotics. They use that, they can't afford it anymore. I've seen a number of them go to heroin," Dr. Walker explained.

She said parents may be shocked at the types of medicines teens will try without thinking.
  
"A teenager, especially a young teenager isn't going to say, "Oh this is oxycontin, that's great. That's a blood pressure medication, I don't want to try that. A kid will try what's available," she said.

John Gahagan said he only knew too late about the dangers of prescription drugs. He has a warning for other parents.

"If his relapse had been smoking a joint, if his relapse had been drinking a beer, he'd still be with us. His relapse involved opiates and it killed him," he said.

Dr. Walker advised spending more time together as a family to prevent prescription drug abuse among teens. It's a simple solution that she said can be effective for families.

Follow this link to learn more about the Take Back Your Meds effort to reduce the number of leftover medicines available to teens and children.

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