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Teen prescription drug abuse: 8 tips for parents

If your teen picks up a mind-altering chemical, she or he is a candidate for addiction, says one man who has been there and back. Here are eight tips for parents who may be facing this situation that can help protect teens from drug abuse.

By Sari Harrar

During October and November, the Healthy Kids blog examines the epidemic of teen prescription drug abuse through the stories of teens and young adults in recovery, their parents and treatment experts. You'll get a first-hand look at a problem that's more widespread and deadly than many parents realize and find real-world advice about protecting your kids.

Previous posts told the story of Tim Rader, a high school football star from Ashland, Pa., who became addicted to prescription pain pills while undergoing cancer treatment at age 17. He is now in recovery after a 10-year battle with addiction. Yesterday his parents, Lou and Patty Rader, talked about their own struggle as their son sunk into addiction.

Today: The Raders offer their advice to parents about the steps that can help protect teens.

"Our society kind of thinks of drinking and even drugs as a rite of passage or a phase for older teens and kids in their 20s. But that attitude has to change," Tim Rader says. "Yes, not everyone will become addicted. But we don't know who will. If your teen picks up a mind-altering chemical, she or he is a candidate [for addiction]. And they're picking them up at places that would surprise you-- at school, at parties, from friends, from your own medicine cabinet. The risk is so real that it just makes sense to stack the deck in your family's favor."

Steps that can help:

Don't think your kid's immune. "Prescription pills are more readily available than ever before -- they're in your purse, in grandmom's medicine cabinet, sitting on the kitchen table and easy to buy," Rader says. "Some teens believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs like marijuana and heroin, so may not feel the same reticence
about trying them at a party or if a friend or even a relative offers something."

Talk with your kids about the dangers. What parents say and do does matter. In one study, by Brigham Young University, 4,200 teens were asked to rate their parents' level of monitoring and tolerance of drug and alcohol use. Researchers found that for every 1-point increase in parent monitoring, the chances a teen tried drugs or alcohol fell 10-14 percent. For every point increase in a parent's tolerance for marijuana, frequent use increased 33 percent. Look for more posts on whether - and how - parents can influence kid's risky choices when it comes to prescription drugs.
As a teen, I really did want to know from my parents about drugs and alcohol," Rader says. "So as much as your teen may roll his or her eyes, start talking and keep talking. It's not one big conversation. It's an on-going dialogue. Bring it up when you see a newspaper article or something on TV about the issue. Sit down and be honest, 'Wow, this looks really scary. I don't want this entering our home. What do you think? How can we come up with a plan together?' It's not just about laying down the rules. It's about involving your kids.

Know what's out there now. "Educate yourself about the kinds of drugs kids are trying-- about what they're called, how kids get them, where and when they're using them," Lou Rader suggests. "You need to be alert when your kids are talking and you need to be able to talk with them about what's really going on." One place to start is the National Institute on Drug Abuse's NIDA for Teens website. You'll find street names for prescription and illegal drugs as well as talking points that explain the dangers.

Put prescription drugs out of reach. Lock up medications you take and use give-back programs to get drugs you're no longer using out of the house. "It's so easy to walk into a bathroom, look through the medicine cabinet and find pills in just a few seconds," Tim Rader says. "I did it all the time. People don't keep count or don't realize what's going on if a few pills or even a whole bottle goes missing." Use the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's National Drug Take-Back Initiative website to find a take-back program in your area.

Know where your kid really is and who's supervising. Talk with parents of friends your child will be visiting, ask if responsible adult be home at all times. "It doesn't take long for something to happen," Patty Rader says. If you have concerns about where an older teen is going, cross-check his or her story with other friends who will be there and with other parents.

Check their electronics. "Know what websites they're on," Patty Rader suggests. "Check their Facebook page." We'll discuss the pros and cons of checking up on your kids, and new apps and services that help parents do this, in a future post.

Watch for changing behavior. "Vigilance is the key for parents," Tim Rader says. "There are so many subtle signs that my parents, and other parents, say they wish they'd acted on. Like changing friends, not taking care of themselves, wanting to be by themselves more often, new moodiness, sleeping a lot. There's no one sign. A kid may be using and still keep his grades up or still keep the same friends. And it's tough to tell whether it's just a teenager growing up and wanting privacy, or if something's going on. You have to watch and ask questions."

Get help for your child and yourself. "Don't go it alone or try to work it out at home without telling anybody else," Rader says. "That just plays into the stigma of addiction." Find a program for your child and/or a support program for yourself with the online locater service of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "You remain as sick as your secrets," Rader says. "Thinking you can work this out inside your own family and not telling anyone makes the job nearly impossible. Getting help lets you meet so many families who are going through the same thing. You can become a real support person and resource in your own community. Getting help if you suspect something's going on isn't a sign of failed parenting. It's a sign of fantastic parenting."