According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the increase in drug abuse was immediate when the pandemic began.  As of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. 

Overdoses also spiked during the early onset of the pandemic. A reporting system called ODMAP there was an 18% nationwide increase in overdoses compared with those same months in 2019. 

Child teen phone computer digital

Even before the pandemic, abuse of prescription drugs was a problem among teens.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 5,700 teens in 2014 took prescription pain relievers for the first time without medical intervention or a doctor’s guidance. 

Because the brain continues to develop past the age of 20, the abuse of prescribed medicines by teens can have profound effects. For example, during the teen years, the brain’s prefrontal cortex develops so young people can control impulses, determine priorities, divide their attention, and form strategies as adults.

In addition, the brain also develops in a way so a young person can process abstract data and better understand codes of conduct, rules and regulations. Unfortunately, abusing drugs harms the neural pathways and affects perception, something that can impact a person’s reasoning and overall quality life after they become a young adult.

When Prescription Drugs are Taken Recreationally

The improper use of prescription medicines during adolescence can affect a person’s judgment, which places a teen or young person at a higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases or HIV as well.

Some of the following health conditions result when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed.

Opioid pain relievers are the most abused class of prescription medications, due to the euphoric effects which are extremely habit-forming. Side effects may include slowed respiration, constipation, drowsiness, or nausea, depending on the dosage. 

Stimulant drugs can cause a higher body temperature, arrhythmia, reduce appetite, and cause sleep disturbances. The side effects are increased if the drug is taken in a higher dose or used by means other than swallowing a pill (ie smoked or snorted intranasally).

Prescription drugs used for depression may lead to slurred speaking, tiredness, disorientation, shallow breathing, problems with coordination, or seizures when withdrawing from regular use.

What Can Concerned Parents Do to Protect Their Teen Kids?

So, what is a parent to do? Addressing the problem is crucial. Remaining silent will not prepare your children for the dangers. Start talking to children early on about the risks of drugs and addiction before they begin to face peer pressure or before they find themselves in risky situations.

  • Keep the conversations informal
  • Plan to tackle the subject several times
  • Listen to what your kids have to say 
  • Talk over dinner or on the drive to school (so that kids don’t feel lectured)
  • Reinforce to your child that will listen and support them no matter what 

Keeping Medications Safely Stored

Also, it is important for family or friends to safely store prescription medicines and get rid of the drugs when they are not using them. According to research, teens said they started using prescription medicines because of easy access to the drugs.

It can also help to monitor prescriptions. Studies show that doctors issue prescriptions now more often than they did ten years ago. Also, pharmacists frequently overlook the need to check drug registries, which can help reduce any problems with overprescribing.

Start the Dialogue Today

If you have not spoken to your child about the dangers of misusing any type of drug – prescription or non-prescription, you should make it a point to do so. Taking a cavalier attitude about taking prescription medicines can lead to serious repercussions, physically and mentally.

About the Author 

Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for almost 40 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego.