Connecting Pharmacologically

Horse tranquilizers?  That is what kids will take today to get high?  Not only will they take Ketamine, but they have already given it the nickname of Special K, or just “K” for short.  While this drug is more regularly used on humans, adolescents know this drug as a horse tranquilizer and still continue to snort it.  Ten years ago, there were concerns about inhalants.  We had even heard of alcoholics drinking Robitussen.  But with this new age of prescription drug highs, the risks are growing and growing.

It was Ritalin for a while.  Now Ritalin is outdated, and it is Adderall or Vyvanse if you really want to feel it.  Vicodin and Xanax are not only accessible, some kids are so addicted to it that you rarely see them not on it.  They are not sleeping, they are irrational, and they are in a lot of danger.  As discussed in the recent issue of Prevention Researcher, there are four major types of prescription medication that many teens have access to:  stimulants (ADHD prescriptions like Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse or Adderall), opiod analgesics (pain medications like Vicodin or Oxycontin, Percocet), sedatives (Valium, Xanax) and sleeping medications.  These medications are “controlled” which means a doctor must have a DEA license to prescribe them, and it also means there are serious legal consequences for illegal distribution.

Some teens report they are self-treating:  The pill helps them sleep and helps them concentrate, or “I just take it when I fly on a plane (or for finals, etc)”.  Because of an increase in legitimately prescribed medications, adolescents do not view them as dangerous as other substances because a doctor prescribed it to somebody.  The rate of prescribed medications has doubled since 1994.  Oftentimes, teens get their pills from peers and even parents.

Nearly half of 7th-12th graders have been prescribed at least one controlled substance in their lifetime and one in three had been prescribed a controlled substance in the past year.  Dr. Drew Pinsky has been talking about this topic in the media, and has discussed that the general feeling among teens is “What’s the big deal? They’re given by doctors, mom and dad use them, how harmful could they be? And oh by the way, they really do get me high. They work, and I can steal them right out of my own medicine cabinet. I don’t have to go get them from the guy on the street corner!”    He also discusses the point I find myself driving home all the time:  When you feel anxious, depressed, or suicidal even on Sunday or Monday, it IS connected to the Xanax or Molly you took over the weekend.

How many of you have taken a Nyquil or Tylenol PM simply because you couldn’t sleep, not because of a headache or illness?   Bump this up to the adolescent who uses his leftover Vicodin from his wisdom teeth extraction to ensure a good night’s sleep before a test or a girl who takes her sibling’s ADHD medicine to control her appetite.  Bump it up even more to the Saturday show downtown where any pill from Ecstacy (aka Molly- the “pure form” adolescents will say as they tout their wise choice) to Xanax to Ketamine is available to anyone there.  A teen doesn’t have to have a drug connection anymore; he or she merely has to just show up and the pills are offered.  I’ve had more than one teen girl tell me she was “roofied”  (slipped a pill with out her knowledge and essentially experienced a black-out for the rest of the night) and then terrified about what might have happened during her lost hours.

So what do we do about this?  Why do some colleges have a 0% use rate and others a 25% rate?  Should we count all pills?  Prescribe students lock boxes for legitimately prescribed (and needed) medicines?  When we “Say No To Drugs”, are we specifically talking about prescription drugs?  27% of parents and 56% of adolescents view prescription drugs as safer than other drugs, so more education is needed.  There are some really good prevention awareness kits available for schools as well as youth-led programs/curricula available and Dr. Drew’s site (Smart Moves, Smart Choices).  There is also an even better prevention- educated parents, supervision and communication.