Know! Prescription Pills Are Being Used To Gain Academic Edge

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. Have you talked to your child about the dangers of misusing and abusing prescription medicines?

Adolescents today are growing up in a society where regardless of what ails or discomforts them, there is a pill to fix it or in some cases, enhance it. Meet the Smart Pill. It’s every student’s dream (or so it seems). Prescription stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, though originally designed to treat individuals with ADHD, are now being used by a rising number students to promote “cognitive enhancement” and increase academic performance. These drugs, known to calm the body and mind of a person with ADHD, tend to awaken those without the condition, increasing one’s ability to remain alert, focus, learn, memorize and recall.

But these prescription medications do not come without great risk, especially when used without the knowledge, guidance or supervision of a physician. Abuse of such medications can lead to sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, mood swings, heart irregularities, acute exhaustion, stroke and even sudden death. Experts say these drugs also have the ability to permanently change the chemistry of the still-developing adolescent brain, as well as potentially lead an early user to later use of other prescription drugs (including sleep aids and painkillers).

One in four youth report using prescription medications for non-medical purposes, and one in eight youth specifically report misusing or abusing Ritalin or Adderall. Yet, according to the 2012 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), only 14 percent of parents addressed prescription drugs in recent drug talks with their child. If this topic hasn’t surfaced in recent discussions with your son or daughter, the time to bring it up is now. Your child needs to hear your voice on this subject and know exactly where you stand.

And just because you have made your stance clear against illegal drug use, do not assume your child places prescription drugs in the same category. In fact, many adolescents not only believe that prescription drugs are safer, but one in four youth believe their parents wouldn’t care as much if they were caught using prescription drugs versus illegal drugs. And if children feel their parents are more lenient when it comes to prescription drug use, they are much more likely to give them a try. 

What can parents do to protect their tweens/teens:

  • Secure all medicines inside your home in some type of lockbox.
  • Monitor medications, particularly “brain enhancing” stimulants and pain medicines.
  • Dispose of all unused, unwanted and expired medications.
  • Do not send unintended messages to your child by sharing your prescription medications with your child or anyone else (even if his/her symptoms appear to match yours).
  • Make your child aware that using someone else’s prescription medication is not only hazardous to their health, it is illegal.
  • If your child is on a physician-prescribed medication that needs to be taken during the school day, make sure the medicine is safeguarded in the nurse’s office and that the proper dose is administered to your child under the nurse’s supervision.
  • Also be aware that your child may get pressure to share his/her medication. By taking it out of his/her hands, he/she cannot fall to that pressure.
  • And most importantly, be clear about your stance against medicine misuse/abuse and make it a priority to talk regularly and openly with your child about the dangers prescription medications may pose.

For more information on prescription drug abuse, visit: Drugfree.org: Not In My House and  GenerationRX, Outreach Initiative.

For information on safe drug disposal, visit: FDA: How to dispose of unused medicines.

Sources: Drugfree.org: 2012 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS). The New York Times: Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill. TIME Health & Family: Popping Smart Pills: The Case for Cognitive Enhancement.