Protect Children From Prescription Drug Abuse


Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Tennessee and across the country. Thousands of families in Tennessee are affected by such abuse every year, resulting in illegal drug use, overdose deaths, emergency room trips, newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, children in state custody, and people imprisoned for drug-related crimes.

Much of the increase in drug overdose deaths has been attributed to prescription painkillers—or opioids. Research shows a substantial rise in the sale of these strong painkillers since 1999, and overdose deaths from prescription opioids are now greater than the combined overdose deaths involving heroin and cocaine.

In 2012, prescription opioids became the primary substance of abuse for people in treatment funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), outnumbering abusers of alcohol. A report by that department, released in the summer of 2014, also indicated:

  • Almost 5 percent of Tennesseans used pain relievers in the previous year for non-medical purposes.
  • Young Tennesseans (18-25) used prescription opioids at a 30 percent higher rate than the national average.
  • There were 25 percent more controlled substances distributed in Tennessee in 2012 than in 2010.
  • In March 2013, more than 2,000 people received prescriptions for opioids or benzodiazepines (substances used to treat anxiety or sleep disorders) from four or more prescribers.

Tips to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

The Prescription for Success program, introduced by TDMHSAS in 2014 to prevent and treat the prescription abuse epidemic in Tennessee, has made significant strides over the past two years. For example, doctor-shopping for pain medications has been reduced by 50 percent, and prescription drug poisonings and overdose deaths have declined.

But amid some progress, prescription drug abuse remains a serious problem that continues to impact families and communities across the state. Everyone can help play a key role in combating this abuse. Here are some tips for how to safely use your prescription medications and prevent abuse:

If you are pregnant or think you may become pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking prescriptions. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a condition in which a baby has withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to prescription medications (such as opiates) or illegal drugs the mother has used during pregnancy. After the baby is born, it goes through withdrawal because it is no longer receiving the substances.

Make sure your doctors know you are pregnant and what medication you are using. If you need help, don’t hesitate; reach out for help immediately.

Take prescribed medications carefully. The drugs that commonly create dependence and lead to prescription drug abuse include opioids (usually prescribed to treat pain), central nervous system depressants (used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders) and stimulants (prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

When medication is taken with good intentions, there is a still a risk of addiction and side effects. Tell your doctor about all medications, even over-the-counter purchases and supplements, that you are taking.

Also, never take another person’s prescription, and never stop taking or change the amount of medicine you’re taking without talking to your doctor. Always take the prescribed amount of medication and according to instructions.

Store prescription medications safely in the home, and dispose of them as soon as they are no longer needed or have expired. Though anyone can be a poisoning victim, children are more likely to be affected. In 2012, more than half (54 percent) of poisonings in Tennessee involved children under 5 years of age. Keep prescription medications stored in a safe place that doesn’t allow access to kids, teens and other family members.

Also, keep track of how much medicine you have, and don’t request refills unnecessarily. When your doctor says you don’t need the medicine anymore, or if the medicine is expired, dispose of it safely. Find a convenient take-back box location in Tennessee.

If you dispose of medications at home, don’t flush or pour them down the drain. Remove them from the original packaging and mix with an undesirable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag and place in your trash container. Also, remove and destroy any personal information on the empty medicine container and recycle the empty container.

To learn more, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s web page on drug disposal.

Talk to your children about prescription drug abuse. Make sure they understand prescription medications can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs. Keeping an open dialogue and inviting them to talk to you about peer concerns, too, can help you educate them.

Make sure your teen knows that it’s not OK to share medications with others. That tip is one of the Mayo Clinic’s suggestions for preventing drug abuse among teens.

Ask for help if you need it. Prescription drug abuse can seriously impact families. If you, a family member, or friend needs assistance, there are great resources at your disposal. Do not try to quit on your own.

Additional Resources