By Sari Harrar

Stolen from medicine cabinets, offered by friends or plucked from a bowl of multicolored pills at a party, prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin and Valium are the killer new teen high. Too often, parents are clueless when it comes to the prescription-drug abuse epidemic among high school and even middle school teens--  missing early warning signs and fumbling opportunities to educate themselves and protect their kids.

During October and November, the Healthy Kids blog will look at this issue through the stories of former teen prescription drug users now in recovery, their parents and local addiction-recovery experts working to treat addicted teens and help parents prevent under-the-radar and illicit drug use.

Statistics are shocking:

  • One in six teens says they've taken a prescription drug at least once in the past year just for kicks.

  • Among them, 9% are drug-dependent and 20% show troubling signs of dependence, according to one landmark Duke University survey of over 32,000 teens.

  • The drugs of choice are often pain killers.  A recent national survey of 48,025 teens found that one in 20 high school seniors tried highly addictive OxyContin in the past year and one in ten has tried Vicodin.

  • Forty-four percent of teens say they have at least one friend who abuses prescription drugs.

  • Deaths due to accidental drug overdoses among teens have increased 91% since the year 2000.

Just as disturbing is how little parents know and do:

  • Just one in 17 parents says their child has ever abused a prescription medicine.

  • Just one in three has ever talked with their son or daughter about the dangers.

It's a disconnect that leaves teens alone and vulnerable-- and keeps parents from acting quickly when they notice that something's changed about a son or daughter's behavior, mood or friends.  "Eighty-five to 90% of the parents who come in when their child is here say they had no idea what was going on," says Tom Dietzler, senior clinical director of adolescent and young adult services for Caron Treatment Centers based in Wernersville, PA. "They never thought prescription drug abuse could happen in their family. But when they see the timeline of their child's drug use, they remember things that didn't seem quite right at the time. They saw the signs, but didn't know what they were looking at."

Our series begins with the story of Tim Rader, an upstate Pa. high school football star who became addicted to opiate painkillers during cancer treatment at age 17. In the days ahead, you'll read about how his parents discovered Tim's addiction years later -- and what drew Rader into recovery.

You'll meet a Souderton mom whose son, the recipient of a college athletic scholarship, died as a freshman after years of Oxycontin abuse and addiction that began when a coworker at an afterschool job offered him pills.

You'll hear from teens and local college students now in recovery and learn about the innovative programs that are supporting their journey.  Experts like Dietzler will discuss what parents need to know, how to monitor your child's behavior and friendships without snooping and how to find support if you think your child is abusing drugs. Healthy Kids expert panelists will weigh in with advice as well.

Our goal isn't to scare you. As I began this project, I wanted to know whether parents can make any difference. Will teens listen if we talk about prescription-drug dangers? Can we spot early warning signs and step in?  Can we successfully intervene when everything's going wrong? Over and over again, parents, experts and former teen drug users said yes. Parents do have power to help stop this epidemic. Keep reading and learn how.