Cleaning out that medicine cabinet: Pharmacies help cut teen Rx abuse

Teens looking for something to get them high score drugs from friends, from friends of friends, from networks on campus or at school, or from dealers on the street. But increasingly, they’re also turning to another source: Mom and dad’s medicine cabinet.

A new national study shows that 1-out-of-4 teenagers has misused or abused a prescription medication at least once. A prime source of those drugs is the expired medications left in family medicine cabinets, according to a report from Drug Store News.

The Foundation for a Drug-Free World reports that almost half of teens surveyed believe Rx drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs, and “60% to 70% say that home medicine cabinets are their source of drugs.”

The Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation say teen misuse of prescription drugs has jumped 33% in the past five years. Every day in the United States, 2,500 kids ages 12 to 17 years abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “prescription and OTC drugs are the most commonly abused substances by high school seniors after marijuana and alcohol.”

Hence, the urgency behind initiatives like National Drug Take Back Day and the Medicine Abuse Project from The Partnership at Drugfree.org. The goal is to prevent a half million teenagers from abusing prescription medication by the year 2017.

Papatya Tankut, VP of pharmacy affairs at CVS Caremark, a prime sponsor of the abuse project, says that “safely disposing of unwanted drugs…can help prevent the ingestion of expired medication that may have lost its effectiveness while also potentially keeping it out of the wrong hands."

This isn’t just an exercise in managing the disposal of old medicines. “Prescription drug abuse causes the largest percentage of deaths from drug overdosing,” notes the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “Of the 22,400 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2005, opioid painkillers were the most commonly found drug, accounting for 38.2% of these deaths.”

So drug take-back programs offered by community pharmacies like CVS might actually save a life by making it easy and convenient for parents to clear out their medicine cabinets and keep dangerous narcotics and other meds out of the hands of their kids.

If pharmacists and pharmacies can’t play a part in that effort, who can? As always, your comments are welcome.

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