Prescription Drugs

How to Prevent Your Teen from Misusing Prescription Drugs

While the current opioid crisis emphasizes the dangers of fentanyl and unregulated designer drugs, the dangers of misused prescription drugs should not be understated.

Many powerful sedatives, stimulants, and opioids continue to contribute to the well-being and survival of millions of patients throughout the world – but these classes of drugs often have a potential for addiction, and it’s important to beware of this when keeping them around the house. If you’re worried about preventing your teen from misusing prescription drugs and developing a dangerous addiction, then read on.

Exploring How to Prevent Your Teen from Misusing Prescription Drugs

It’s important to take the mystique and allure out of prescription medication. Teens are a little less likely to be interested in “grandma’s post-surgery pain meds” than “that bottle you’re definitely not allowed to touch”. Making sure that your teen understands that other people’s life-saving medication is strictly off-limits is also crucial – not just as a general courtesy to those who actually need the medicine, but also as a life-saving measure for many substances that aren’t addictive or euphoric but can be dangerous or even fatal if taken at the wrong dose, or for the wrong patient.

Pointing out that a prescription drug might be dangerous is also important, but don’t be surprised if that doesn’t necessarily deter them. Risk management is usually not a teenager’s forte, especially if they feel like the temporary reward outweighs the long-term consequences.

Aside from making sure your teen knows that prescription drugs are often risky for anyone who isn’t prescribed that medication, taking precautions to keep these substances out of your teen’s hands can’t hurt. It’s one thing to keep an inhaler or an EpiPen on hand and easily accessible, but it’s another to consider a lockbox with a digital passkey or touch ID for your younger child’s ADHD medication or Xanax.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs Among Teens

Teens are not likely to abuse prescription antibiotics or statins. Most prescription drugs that have the potential for abuse and addiction are psychoactive. These have an effect on the central nervous system and can cause a high.

To sum most of them up, these are stimulants, sedatives, and opioids. Common stimulants include ADHD medication such as Adderall and Ritalin. Common sedatives include benzodiazepines, namely Xanax and Valium, and barbiturates like phenobarbital. Opioids are also a form of sedative but may count as a class of addictive substances in their own right.

When Is It Time to Seek Professional Help?

If your teen has been using prescription drugs irresponsibly, either by taking too many of their own over an extended period of time, or stealing/buying prescription drugs off other people, talk to a professional immediately.

Prescription drug abuse can be just as harmful as illicit drug use. At Visions, we receive many questions from parents and concerned teens about preventing or coping with prescription drug misuse. Some of these questions include:

Are there legal consequences for misused prescription drugs?

Yes, there are. Prescription drugs must be prescribed by an experienced and accredited medical professional because they are a controlled substance. Owning or possessing prescription drugs in excess of what has been prescribed for treatment, or without having a prescription in the first place, is unlawful.

Technically, taking more than the prescribed dose at any given time wouldn’t be illegal – but it would still be very dangerous, and suspicious to any physician or doctor realizing that you’ve come back for a refill far too soon. Prescriptions aren’t hereditary, either – it’s not okay to use your sibling’s medicine, even if you’re twins.

Does social media have a role in teen prescription drug misuse?

Prescription drug use has been a subject in pop media for several generations, and social media hasn’t significantly changed nor influenced the recreational use of drugs like Xanax or Percocet in a way that songs or other mediums haven’t done already.

Are mental health conditions and substance abuse linked?

They can be. A history of drug addiction does not guarantee a mental health problem – nor do all teens with mental health problems automatically struggle with drug use. In fact, some prescription drugs are prescribed specifically to treat conditions like anxiety. However, teens with mental health issues are more likely to try and become addicted to drugs, and vice versa – often because of a lack of treatment, both for mental health issues and for drug abuse.

Getting Help

Teenage drug use is especially concerning because of the way addictive substances affect the teen brain. Adolescents are more likely to get addicted when using addictive substances, and they’re much more likely to develop substance use issues later in life the earlier they start using, whether it’s an illicit substance like ecstasy or MDMA, or something legally obtainable, like alcohol or prescription anti-anxiety medication.

If you want to learn more about how to prevent or address teenage prescription drug use or find out more about prescription drug use treatment options like residential teen treatment, get in touch with us at Vision Teen Treatment.

Conclusion: Preventing teen prescription drug misuse requires a proactive and multifaceted approach. Teens need to be educated on the effects of improper prescription medication use, the dangers of mixing medications and other substances, and learn the parallels between common prescription drugs and their illicit counterparts. Furthermore, parents may need to be more careful about how they or other family members are storing their medication or think about scheduling an intervention for their teen’s ongoing and troubling prescription drug misuse, or other intensive treatment plans.

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10 Places Your Teen Can Hide Drugs

If you believe that your teen has been using drugs as of late, chances are that they have some with them at home. Where teens hide drugs are not always immediately obvious – you might not find a quarter ounce of weed stuffed away in a sock at the bottom of the drawer or in the pocket of their least favorite jacket – but there are only so many places you can hide drugs around a house.

While your teen might be more inventive than most, these tend to be the most common places your teen can hide drugs from snooping siblings and parents alike.

1. Scent-proofed Stashes

Not all drugs have a strong scent. Trained dogs can sniff out drugs like cocaine even amid a pile of dirty laundry, but the human nose is not that advanced. That being said, some popular drugs, like marijuana, in particular, have a very strong and distinctive scent. This narrows down a teen’s options.

The first, yet probably most obvious thing to do, is to bury the stash. The problem with doing so is that it’s pretty easy to tell when a hole has been freshly dug, and they’d have to signpost it somehow to avoid losing their weed. It’s still worth checking the backyard, though.

Other scent-proofed possibilities include large jars of coffee (coffee is a natural deodorant and has its own scent), empty roll-on deodorant sticks, inside an unused bag of pet food, or a permanent marker with a strong scent.

2. Video Game Consoles

Some consoles are a bit more infamous than others for providing great hiding opportunities. One disadvantage is that consoles are just like computers but optimized for space and performance. This means they can get quite hot, which isn’t ideal for some drugs. Checking your teen’s console might be tricky, as it can be fairly easy to damage.

There are plenty of tutorials online for removing the front panel of a video game console, whether it’s a Playstation, an Xbox, or an older Wii U. Portable consoles like the Switch or PS Vita are much more difficult to use as potential drug stashes, due to their compact nature. Old, unused, or broken consoles can be retrofitted into potential drug stashes, however, by removing key components. On a similar note, your teen’s PC tower might be another place to look.

3. The Backyard

We’ve mentioned burying drugs, but that isn’t the only option. A backyard is a place full of potential (and great) hiding spots. Hollow garden gnomes? Hollow spaces inside flowerpots? Under a slab in the rock garden? In the tool shed, hidden behind the fertilizer? The possibilities are endless – which makes the backyard one of the better hiding spots, provided it’s large enough to make searching difficult.

4. Personal Hygiene Products

Teens expect a little privacy from their parents, at least when it comes to what they use to get ready for the day. However, old and used containers or empty makeup kits make for a good hiding spot.

5. Their Car

It’s obvious but effective. Don’t just check on the floor or in the glovebox – drugs can be taped under the seat or dashboard or stashed under the hood.

6. Toilet Tank

The toilet tank is an all-time favorite. Simple, marginally gross, and easy to access.

7. Air Vents

Most modern homes no longer have these, but older homes and apartments do. Air vents are a pretty convenient place to stash anything that’s relatively small and doesn’t have a significant odor or can be placed in an odor-safe container. That means you likely won’t find weed in an air vent your teen has access to, but you might find – depending on the size of the vent and the space provided – alcohol, certain prescription pills, or cocaine.

An alternative yet similar hiding space is an unused air conditioning unit. Most older air conditioning units have an easily removable front panel and a little bit of space for hiding things.

8. Cookie and Candy Tins

Altoids have been making a comeback – not so much for the candy itself but for the nostalgic and aesthetic factor of the tin. In addition to cash, teens might also use Altoid tins to stash other valuables. The same goes for cookie tins, old candy tins, etc. 

9. Behind Posters

If the drug is in a powder form or can be easily flattened (such as a small plastic bag with a few pills), another good place to hide it would be behind a poster taped against the wall.

10. Inside Books

It’s not done very often, but people do still hollow out cavities in books they aren’t really a fan of and use that as a discrete hiding spot.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Even if your teen does not typically apply their full faculties to daily tasks and schoolwork, never underestimate a teenager’s capacity for innovation and inventiveness when it comes down to it.

Going Through Great Lengths to Hide Drugs

Teens understand that drugs are dangerous and that they shouldn’t use them frivolously. But oftentimes, they don’t care. Whether it’s because most teens have an immortality complex or because the long-term consequences of drug use are known, but simply don’t register in their minds, teens can and will go through great lengths to hide drugs or their drug use, especially if they live in an area where it’s both harder to get drugs, and where punishment for drug possession is greater.

What if You Don’t Find Anything?

If you don’t find your teen’s drug stash or think they might not be keeping any drugs at hand, after all, that does not necessarily mean they aren’t taking anything. If you catch your teen being high regularly without having any drugs at home, it can only mean one thing: they’re getting and using drugs while out with friends or acquaintances.

Suspicious Behavior Doesn’t Equal a Drug Problem

Last but not least, not all suspicious teen behavior is indicative of a drug problem. If you don’t have any conclusive proof that your teen is regularly using drugs, then their behavior could be explained in other ways. Irritability, pulling away from family, anxious or paranoid behavior, and memory problems can be caused by other conditions, including stress- or trauma-related anxiety. If your teen doesn’t want to talk about their problems and habits, consider speaking with a mental health professional about potential intervention tactics.

For more information, please contact Visions Treatment Centers. If your teen is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to us to learn more about residential treatment program options and much more.

Prescription Drugs

Most Widely Abused Legal Drugs by Teens

While “hard drugs” like cocaine and heroin are highly addictive and dangerous, even regulated substances with good medical uses can lead to addiction, primarily if used recreationally. Certain legal drugs can create a physical dependence in many who use them without a doctor’s direction, especially in teens.

Some teens do not realize the dangers of misusing prescribed legal drugs because relatives or friends use them or think that they must be safe because they are legal drugs prescribed by a doctor. But the truth is that these substances can cause just as much harm as illegal ones, if not more so in some cases. While everyone is susceptible to misinformation about legal drugs, young people are at an especially increased risk.

If you suspect your child might be falling prey to a substance use disorder (SUD) or believe that addiction has already developed, know that not only does educating yourself about the risks of drug misuse and abuse play a leading role in combating the problem and even preventing it, it’s also the most effective first line of defense of a parent and role model.

Most Commonly Misused Addictive Legal Drugs

Addictive legal drugs can be split into three general categories:

    1. Depressants
    2. Stimulants
    3. Opioids

Prescription Depressants

Depressants are drugs that “depress” the central nervous system, mild symptoms of anxiety and distress, and combatting sleeplessness. They are often used to treat severe anxiety disorders and panic attacks, as well as insomnia. Common prescription depressants include:

    • Diazepam (Valium)
    • Zolpidem (Ambien)
    • Triazolam (Halcion)
    • Alprazolam (Xanax)
    • Estazolam (Prosom)
    • Clonazepam (Klonopin)

Signs of severe depressant misuse include (but is not limited to) blurred vision, nausea, cognitive impairment, sleepiness, and addiction.

Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants are drugs that stimulate focus, cut appetite and trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol. They are used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy, and, rarely, obesity. Common prescription stimulants include:

Signs of severe stimulant misuse include (but is not limited to) heartbeat inconsistencies and arrhythmias, paranoia, and addiction.

Prescription Opioids

Opioids are drugs that numb pain receptors and, in the past, were primarily used as anesthetics. Prescription opioids can be hazardous drugs and were the catalyst behind the opioid crisis in the late 1990s. Because heroin has become easier to access since the use of prescription opioids has fallen while heroin use and subsequent overdoses have risen.

Prescription opioid use can lead to heroin use because heroin creates a similar high and maybe cheaper/more accessible. Some opioids are used to treat chronic or acute pain, while other, more potent opioids are used in post-operative and terminal care. Common prescription opioids include:

    • Codeine
    • Fentanyl
    • Morphine
    • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
    • Oxymorphone (Opana)
    • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)

Signs of severe opioid abuse include (but is not limited to) respiratory distress, hyperalgesia, and addiction.

Early Risk for the Transition to Dependence

Drugs from each classification function very differently and target portions of the brain to elicit some degree of euphoria by releasing powerful neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. The repeated use of these drugs can change how the brain interprets motivational signals and mess with the delicate chemical balance that influences the way we think and behave.

Outside factors, particularly co-occurring mental health issues, chronic stressors, or traumatic experiences, can increase addiction risk. This can lead to physical and psychological dependence and create the symptoms we recognize as addiction. This process can occur faster in teens than in adults, partly because of the way their brain is still developing. There are individual factors that affect how quickly an addictive substance can cause an addiction.

While there is no such thing as being “hooked on the first hit,” a single first-time dose can have an impact on a teen’s likelihood to try another one. Genetic factors can determine a person’s predisposition towards addiction (i.e., risk of alcohol use disorder can run in the family, regardless of upbringing). This never guarantees an addiction but instead means that some teens are more likely to struggle with drug use than others, even after accounting for other factors, such as severe ongoing stress and trauma.

Recognizing the Warning Signs and Symptoms

2013 surveys cited by the DEA found that about 17.8 percent of high school students used legal drugs without a doctor’s prescription at least once in the past year. Statistics differed from state to state, but it showed that even despite stricter regulations on prescription drugs following the start of the opioid crisis, a considerable number of teens had at least some experience using prescription drugs recreationally.

Understanding what drugs your teen is using can help determine whether their behavior indicates dependence or addiction and, more importantly, seeking professional help. If you do not have access to your prescription bottle label but know what the pill looks like, you may identify the drug through a pill identifier. Under United States law, all legal drugs prescribed and sold must have a distinct appearance to allow for easier identification. If you do not know the pill, consult with a medical professional or pharmacist after consulting online resources.

Identifying the So-Called Legal Highs

Studies have shown that the most common source for all age groups that misuse legal drugs was a friend or relative who had obtained them legally. Sometimes, these drugs are distributed to acquaintances or sold when prescribed in excess, and sometimes, they are stolen from a relative’s medication cabinet or stash. Surveys also found that teens were less likely than young adults to obtain legal drugs from strangers or drug dealers.

When used with the advice and precise directions of a medical professional, most legal drugs are relatively safe. However, when used in the wrong quantities or without the proper medical context, they can have a wholly different and destructive effect on a person’s body and mind. Your teen needs to understand that any drug that requires a doctor’s prescription can be a potential source of danger and even death.

Knowing When and Where to Seek Treatment

Teen prescription drug abuse and addiction is a serious and severe issue. Drug use itself does not mean that your teen is addicted – and if you have discovered their drugs early enough, then a judgment-free conversation with them about the dangers and consequences of these substances might help them understand that they should be more careful about what they consume, even when it comes from a friend.

Some teens believe that drugs like Adderall can help them study better, while others might feel pressured into taking drugs like Xanax at parties. Suppose your teen is struggling to kick the habit, however, or is showing other signs of addiction (such as irritability, changes in mood and personality, and inability to stop using). In that case, it is essential to seek professional help and treatment.

Prescription Drugs Substance Abuse

Teen Amphetamine Abuse Risk Factors and Early Warning Signs

According to statistics, up to eight percent of teens were abusing amphetamines by the end of high school in 2012. The number of reported instances by high school students had decreased by half as of 2019, but teen amphetamine abuse for those in middle school had nearly doubled. This means that young teens are more at risk than ever of abusing prescription medication.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a class of substance which produce stimulation to the central nervous system. They are medically prescribed to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD).

In the absence of these disabilities, amphetamines produce a burst intense energy and focus for the user. A person under the influence of amphetamines may experience the ability to complete tasks more easily, or may be able to obsess for hours on a task without interruption.

The increase in mental focus comes at a cost. When amphetamines are not used in the precise way prescribed by a doctor, both physical and mental health problems can occur. Amphetamines are highly addictive, and can cause side effects such as restlessness, heart palpitations, seizures, agitation, and even psychosis.

Risk Factors for Teen Amphetamine Abuse

Teens with family members who are prescribed amphetamines for medical conditions – or who are already prescribed them, personally – are a primary source of supply for illegal distribution of prescription medication. Several campaigns have been launched over the years, warning parents of the trend of stealing pills from medicine cabinets. While easy access to medications are an obvious red flag, there are other factors which can be observed as contributing to a risk that a teen will be tempted to abuse prescription amphetamines.

Having Friends Who Use

It is a fact of developmental psychology that teens are influenced by their peers. The adolescent stage of life is all about teenagers learning how to separate from their parents in a way that supports eventual adulthood. As part of this process of development of adult identity, selected friends can begin to replace the role of the nuclear family when it comes to establishment of norms and behaviors. If the norms of a teen’s peer group includes amphetamine abuse, the temptation to join in will be high.

Purchasing of Other Drugs

There has been much debate about whether using other, less addictive, drugs provides increased risk of using the more dangerous drugs. While the verdict on so-called “gateway” drugs is still in dispute, what is more concrete is the fact that drug dealers often sell more than just one substance. The potential for exposure to drugs like amphetamines while scoring that next bag of weed or hit of ecstasy is likely, and increased exposure can result in a deterioration of willpower to resist giving amphetamines a try.

Lack of Parental Involvement

As with many other behavioral problems, a teen who is not monitored by parental figures is more likely to get into trouble. Studies examining the perceptions of parents when it comes to their teen’s behavior show that many parents are largely unaware of the activities that their adolescents are engaging in. Failing to educate teens on the responsible use of medications and not keeping track of the supply can be viewed as passive permission from a parent for the teen to pursue the behavior.

Mood Disorders

Years of data has consistently linked the tendency for substance abuse to the presence of other, diagnosable, mental disorders. Up to 75% of adolescents who abuse substances are simultaneously suffering from symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and trauma. For many, the drugs are viewed as a way to escape from the negative thoughts and emotions associated with such disorders. The dulling of emotions and distraction from introspection that amphetamines produce make this type of drug particularly attractive.

Lack of Future Goals

We have all heard something like, “the idle mind is the devil’s playground.” This antiquated phrase speaks to the tendency of human beings to get into trouble when we are not occupying our minds with worthwhile ideas, goals, and plans. A teen who is lacking in a clear direction for his or her future is at risk of not considering the consequences of using drugs for a short-lived escape.

Early Warning Signs of Teen Amphetamine Abuse

While the above areas can be viewed as precautions for the development of a substance abuse problem, the following are signs that teen substance abuse has already started. Parents are advised to follow up on any hunches regarding the possibility of their teen abusing substances, and not to wait until the problem gets out of control. These factors are just a handful of symptoms to be on alert for when identifying teen amphetamine abuse.

Odd Sleeping Patterns

Amphetamines are a stimulant, meaning that they trick the mind into thinking it does not need as much sleep. Depending on the dosages, a teen who is using amphetamines may be observed as staying up all night, and then being inexplicably during the daytime. He or she may also be observed as going multiple days in a row without conforming to a standard bedtime.

Weight Loss

Along with the need for sleep being decreased, stimulants such as amphetamines also trick the body into feeling a lack of hunger. This effect of amphetamines is so well known, that it was previously promoted as a diet drug. A teen misusing this medication may be observed as regularly skipping out on family meals, and may begin to show obvious signs of dropping weight.


A red flag which is common to all substance abuse behaviors in teens is that of lying. Lying is a reaction to the desire to avoid getting into trouble or to ensure that a disapproved behavior can continue without interference. A teen who is abusing substances will feel an urge to lie about being on the drugs, lie about what he or she is doing with her time, and lie about the people he or she is hanging out with.

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Drug Addiction in Youth: Common Misconceptions

The way we think about addiction has to change if we are ever going to make a difference as caretakers, confidants, friends and family members. More specifically, we should think differently about drug addiction in our youth and the common misconceptions about it. Only recently has the addiction community begun to develop specialized addiction treatment centers for teens struggling with dependency.

Visions Adolescent Treatment Center has fought for awareness of addiction and the difficulty it creates in these children’s lives. We have made it our purpose to share everything we can about addiction in adolescents from the earliest age of 12 because it should be a concern we address. You have a choice to open your eyes and see what we see every day. Don’t ignore the signs and assume nothing that can be done; there is, you just have to listen and see.

The common misconception of adolescent addiction are:

  • “My child tells me everything. They would never get involved in something like that.”

Most of the time our children will hold something back from us, no matter how well we think we know them. It’s important that we continue to work on our familial relationships and communication because if we don’t big changes like addiction can happen when we’re not. We should make sharing new experiences and thoughts comfortable and something we do each day at home. If your children and siblings are comfortable talking with you, then you will see any change as it happens and be able to reach out to them.

  • “You can only develop an addiction as an adult.”

This is a big misconception because trying something like alcohol at an early age or smoking a joint, can seem like just a thing that kids do. But, addiction can develop in children very early on in their lives; it can also be something bigger if you pay attention. Because adolescents haven’t developed completely in the areas of the brain that deal with decision making and consequence, addiction is the most real thing. When they think nothing is bad for them or could hurt them, this is when they try these things. Understand that teens are most vulnerable at this time.

The argument for this has gone on for years but for treatment centers and adolescent addiction advocates, we know that this is not the case. About ten percent of kids that smoke it before 19 can become dependent and addicted to marijuana. It isn’t just your mother’s marijuana anymore, because it’s grown with chemically enhanced additives. We should be careful to say that it doesn’t affect brain chemistry.

  • “Prescriptions help my child. They have to be good for them since they were prescribed by a physician.”

Before you turn to a prescription drug to solve your teens problems, remember that what you agree to give them isn’t natural. Unless absolutely necessary, many of these drugs that work to reduce the effects of ADHD and emotional mental health conditions may do more harm than you think. Prescription drugs are of the most addictive of them all. Once you give them a prescription, it’s not guaranteed they won’t abuse the medication. Just because it’s a pill given to you by a doctor doesn’t mean it can’t harm you.

Now that you know some of the ideas you should watch out for in your own thinking, share what you’ve learned with your family about addiction. You can save your child from addiction if you’re open minded. Call Visions Adolescent Treatment Center to find out more about specific addictions and how we can help your teen recover at 866-889-3665.

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New Study Shows ADHD Drug Abuse Starts Earlier than First Thought

ADHD drug abuse, a problem commonly associated with the college years, may actually begin much earlier, according to the latest research. One study found that the peak range for individuals beginning to abuse these drugs was between 16 and 19. These findings suggest education must begin much earlier than high school in order to reduce abuse of drugs like Adderall, Ritalin and other prescription stimulants.

Study Results

Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School analyzed data on more than 240,000 teenagers and young adults from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. In addition to showing a younger peak range than previously thought, the data also revealed that the younger someone is when they begin using these substances, the more likely they are to become addicted.

In addition to drugs prescribed for ADHD, researchers also surveyed use of prescription diet drugs and medications containing methamphetamine. They found young females were more likely to abuse diet drugs, while males were more apt to try Adderall. Non-Hispanic white and Native American teens tended to have the highest use rates.

“We need to have a realistic understanding of when young people are beginning to experiment with stimulants, so we can prevent them from misusing for the first time,” Elizabeth Austic, author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at MU’s Injury Center, stated in a press release. “To prevent someone from using for the first time is often more cost-efficient and effective than trying to intervene once they have done it, whether a few times or for years.”

Prescription stimulants may be abused for a number of reasons, including weight loss and enhancement of physical performance. The drugs are also thought to improve academic performance, which is often why they are taken by students that feel the pressure to get good grades. However, no studies have shown these drugs improve thinking or learning capability and some have actually indicated use of the drugs without a diagnosed disorder like ADHD could impair brain function in some ways.

Prescription stimulants are also addictive, making them a dangerous choice for people at any age. Addiction means you will eventually have to take more of the drug to get the same high, and if you try to stop using, you could experience serious withdrawal symptoms.

At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we help teens overcome addiction to prescription stimulants and discover a healthy, productive life of sobriety. Our treatment programs address both the addiction and the underlying issues that might have led to drug use in the first place. To learn more about the treatment programs offered, contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers at 866-889-3665.

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The Suburban Rise of Heroin Use

Heroin use is on the rise.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the makers of Oxycontin changed their formula, presumably making it harder to abuse, something unforeseen happened: heroin use began to rise amongst white suburbanites. This is a significant shift from the historically urban prevalence of heroin use. It used to be that heroin was the drug of choice for city-dwelling, young, male minorities. However, the current path to heroin use is paved with prescription opioids. The reality is, addiction doesn’t have any real barriers; it has a broad reach and an even broader topography.


When 9,000 patients in treatment centers nationwide were surveyed, its findings showed “90 percent of heroin users were white men and women. Most were relatively young — their average age was 23. And three-quarters said they first started not with heroin but with prescription opioids like OxyContin.”


While RX opioids are still one of the more popular drugs of choice, the shift toward heroin was a direct result of cost and availability. For example, OxyContin can go for $80 a pill on the street, while a bag of heroin might be $10. An addict doesn’t care whether or not the chemical compound is safe or consistent: they care about the high.


In 2007, over 2,000 people died of heroin overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 200,000 went to ERs after overdosing in 2008.


According to this NY Times article, “from 2007 to 2012, the number of people who reported using heroin in the previous year grew to 669,000 from 373,000,” presenting a substantial increase in heroin use.


Experts are saying that the aggressive prescribing of opioids like OxyContin and Percocet in the last decade is part and parcel to what has caused the increase in heroin use in wealthier areas. These areas have more access to medical care and doctors willing to write prescriptions. As patients become addicted and the prescriptions dry up, addicts are hitting the street. What seems cheaper at first ends up being financially debilitating as the addiction progresses. That $10 bag becomes two bags, then three, then 10, and before you know it, that heroin addiction has bankrupted your family and destroyed your life.


In order to gain control of the increase in heroin use, physicians need to prescribe more cautiously, lessoning the quantity and frequency of prescriptions. And those addicted, be they teens or adults, need to get help and get into treatment. There’s no hope for moderation for an addict – complete abstinence is the only way.


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A New SAMHSA Report Brings Xanax Front and Center

According to a new report issued by SAMHSA  (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

(Photo credit: Dean812)

Administration), there has been an increase in ER visits due to the recreational use of alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax.  Per the report, “The number of emergency department visits involving non-medical use of the sedative alprazolam (Xanax) doubled from 57, 419 to 124, 902 from 2005 to 2010, and then remained stable at 123, 744 in 2011.”


Xanax is part of a class of medications called benxodiazapenes and is indicated for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepenes work on the brain and the nerves – our central nervous system – producing a calming effect.  Benzodiazepenes enhance a chemical, which is naturally found in the body called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which plays a role in regulating the nervous system.


It’s noted that Xanax is often one of the first pharmaceutical interventions given to someone struggling with anxiety or panic attacks. In fact, “Alprazolam is the 13th most commonly sold medication in 2012, and is the psychiatric medication most commonly prescribed in 2011.”


While Xanax may be effective when used appropriately for anxiety and panic disorders, it is profoundly dangerous when used recreationally. It is highly addictive and often encourages drug-seeking behavior. SAMSHA reports, “The non-medical use of alprazolam can lead to physical dependence, causing withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and seizures.  If alprazolam is combined with alcohol or other drugs that depress the central nervous system — such as narcotic pain relievers — the effects of these drugs on the body can be dangerously enhanced.”


The side effects of Xanax (alprazolam) include:

  • Dry mouth.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Disinhibition.
  • Skin rash.
  • Constipation.
  • Hallucinations (very rare)


According to the SAMHSA study, “In 2011, there were over 1, 200, 000 emergency department visits” as a result of recreational prescription drug use. Often times, recreational users mix several types of prescription drugs or add alcohol, creating a chemical mash-up. How these drugs are acquired is also a problem. It’s not uncommon to procure them from the medicine cabinets of parents, or parents of friends. This fact alone is a reminder for parents to lock away medications that present a danger and get rid of unused medications they have lying around the house. Keep in mind, expiration dates are a non-factor to a teen looking to get high and the reality is, all drugs not currently being used need to be viewed as dangerous.


The SAMSHA study acts as a reminder to pay closer attention to our children, and to take responsibility for the medications we have on hand. Adolescence breeds curiosity and is fraught with risk-taking behavior. What’s normal can very quickly go rogue. A child’s curiosity coupled with a genetic propensity for addiction is dangerous; likewise, a child’s curiosity coupled with a lack of impulse control (normal) and a rapidly developing brain (normal) is also dangerous. There is no “safe” curiosity when it comes to drugs. And misusing prescription drugs is not an exception.

Addiction Parenting Prescription Drugs Prevention

Prescription Drugs: The New Gateway Drugs

Prescription drugs are one of the easiest drugs to obtain.

Ritalin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often times, it’s as simple as going into the medicine cabinet at home, at a neighbor’s house, a friend’s house or a family member’s home. This ease of accessibility coupled with the curiosity and natural rebelliousness of teenagers is a recipe for experimentation, sneakiness, and even mimicry of parental actions.


Some kids start using prescription drugs because they are trying to inappropriately cope with their stress or anxiety; some use it to try to get an “in” with a certain crowd. There are those, too, who have been prescribed a medication for one thing, notice a “benefit” for something else (like more focus on a test), and begin misusing it or sharing it with their friends.


According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more than 71, 000 children ages 18 and under are seen in the ER for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

  • Two-thirds (66%) of teens who report abuse of prescription medications get them from friends, family, and acquaintances.
  • Among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs are the second most abused drug (behind marijuana)
  • Teens ages 12-17 have the second-highest annual rates of prescription drug abuse; young adults 18-25 have the highest rate.
  • Every day, 2700 teens try prescription drugs for the first time with the intent of getting high.
  • Nearly one in four teens have taken a prescription medication that was not prescribed to them.
  • One in three teens report being offered a prescription drug or OTC medication for the purpose of getting high.
  • One in three teens report having a close friend who abuses prescription pain medications.
  • One in four teens report having a close friend who abuses cough medicine to get high.
  • One in 10 teens report abusing cough medicine to get high.

Parents need to take preventative actions with all of their medications. Do you safely dispose of unused medications? Or do they reside in the dark corners of your medicine cabinet, collecting dust on their exhausted expiration dates?  Are they loosely out on a counter or tabletop which is easily accessible? Now is the time to batten down the hatches, so to speak, and take some preventative measures.  Our kids watch us all the time; they learn from our actions and reactions, and they often mimic us so it behooves us to behave in a way that we would like to see our children behave.  Trust me, seeing my son say something sarcastic and realizing he’s just mimicking me is mortifying, and that’s just sarcasm! Kids will try anything on, and if taking a lot of medications is part of your habitual behavior, they will try that on too.


  • Communicate with your kids and educate them about the risks of prescription drug abuse. Be honest and age appropriate.
  • Don’t take medications that aren’t prescribed to you. (A recent study by The Partnership at showed that 27 percent of parents have taken a prescription medicine without having a prescription for it themselves.)
  • Store your medications in a secure place.
  • Count and monitor the amount of pills you have before you lock them up.


Prescription drugs are being hailed as the new gateway drug.

More often than not, one begins with prescription opiates and ends up using and abusing street drugs. The reality is, once the medicine cabinets are depleted and the sheer cost of Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc., becomes prohibitive, the path inevitably darkens.


Stay aware. Tap into the multitude of resources like SAMHSA, Partnership for a DrugFree America, and the Medicine Abuse Project for more information and free pamphlets. If you suspect your child is abusing prescription drugs or any drugs, seek help.


Resources for this blog:

Partnership for Drug Free America

Medicine Abuse Project

Educate Before You Medicate

Dispose My Meds


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