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Phoenix Forward

Got teens at home? Time to lock up your meds

Pediatric nurse Kathy Watson has worked with young patients for 25 years

Forget the childproof safety locks adorning most medications and even the National Poison Center’s quaint green Mr. Yuk™ stickers of the ‘70s: With teenage abuse of over-the-counter and prescription pills on the rise, medical professionals advise parents to lock up drugs in a safe.

“Teenagers simply don’t have the cognitive ability to understand that what they put into their body might have adverse affects,” explains Kathy Watson, director of the College of Nursing at the University of Phoenix Southern Arizona Campus.  

Citing Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics, which find teenage over-the-counter and prescription drug abuse increasing significantly in recent years, Watson feels that parents need to educate their kids about the consequences of taking drugs but, even more important, parents need make sure that their adolescents don’t have access to prescriptions.

“The problem today is that you might have a younger child in the family who is taking a medication for attention deficit disorder,” explains Watson, who has been a pediatric nurse practitioner for more than 25 years. “Well, if his older teenage sibling finds out that that same drug can be a stimulant, or even an appetite suppressant, they might try to take it to lose weight. That can be very dangerous because that same drug might have the opposite effect on an older child than it does on a youngster.”

Teenagers simply don’t have the cognitive ability to understand that what they put into their body might have adverse affects.

Watson feels that most teenagers think they’re immune from danger, and that’s why it’s important to communicate to them the effects of drugs on the body and mind. “When teenagers take a drug,” explains Watson, “they often have problems deciphering if the drug is helping them or hurting them, and this is what can lead to overdosing.”

With the adult population’s use of prescription drugs on the rise — according to the CDC, 48 percent of adults are taking some type of prescription drug regularly — teens have more exposure to medications than ever before. Watson says that, among the high school set, popular drugs include a litany of depressants, stimulants, painkillers, antihistamines, diet pills and drugs for anti-hypertension, as well as cough syrup with the active ingredient Dextromethorphan (DXM). “Teens want to try anything that makes them feel different,” says Watson.

Having raised a family herself, Watson is emphatic about the need to not just hide medicines from teens, but to put them in an actual “safe” or locked cabinet. “Parents should absolutely not be sticking them on a shelf in the kitchen,” she says, “nor should they be lying around where teens will find them.”

Unfortunately many parents underestimate their kids’ desire to experiment. “Parents have to be educated before they can educate their kids,” says Watson. “So many times when a teen overdoses, you’ll hear the parent say, ‘I just had a whole new bottle right here, and now it’s empty.’”