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Murphree: Dangers of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

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Denton County Sheriff Tracey Murphree

The CDC defines a poison as any substance, including medication, which is harmful to your body if too much is eaten, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin.  This includes everything from household cleaners to aspirin.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics now considers poisoning one of the leading causes of death from injury in the United States. (CDC)

Most cases of poisoning in children and teens result from misuse of articles in the home, and medicines kept in the home, are a bigger danger than cleaning supplies and pesticides, especially among teens.  Take a moment to count how many people come through your house in a day who could be in contact, whether intentional or accidental, with the medicines in your home medicine cabinet, or even the medicine cabinets of your children.  On any given day, you might have family, friends, friends of friends, repair and installation people, and any number of others.

“In 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult his own bottle of pills.  Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription pain killers.” (Wisenbaker, 17)  Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have risen dramatically during the past two decades.  Approximately 15,000 people die from overdoses involving these drugs each year.  This is higher than the number of people who die from heroin and cocaine combined. (CDC)

With teens in particular, one danger to watch for is, “Pharm Parties.”  These parties are not new, but we don’t hear about them unless someone ends up in the emergency room, or dead. “Pharm” is short for “pharmaceutical.” Teenagers who go to these parties take prescription and over-the-counter drugs to the party. Often, they simply dump these pills in a bowl with pills from other partygoers. Then teens grab a handful of drugs and swallow them to see what sort of reaction they get. These reactions can range from a mild buzz to a full on high to an actual brush with death.” (www.teendrugaddiction.com)  Studies show that most of the teenagers at these parties get the drugs they contribute from their home medicine cabinets.

How can you minimize the risks to your teens?  Make sure you lock up opioids.  Teens see these drugs as less dangerous than street drugs simply because they appear to be easily available.  Make sure to monitor the drugs in your home meticulously.  It is easy to get distracted, especially if there is more than one child in the house, but it is critical to your children’s and teens’ safety that you are alert at all times if there are any of these products in your home.  However, some additional precautions we can all take to ensure our children are able to grow up in a healthy, safe environment are listed below.

Medicine Safety Tips

  • Never “borrow” a friend’s medicine or take old medicines.
  • Clean out the medicine cabinet periodically, and safely dispose of medicines that are expired or no longer needed.
  • Make sure your teenagers do not have access to these medicines.
  • Monitor the use of medicines prescribed for children and teenagers, such as medicines for attention deficit disorder, or ADD. Ritalin is a popular drug at these parties.
  • Some medicines are dangerous when mixed with alcohol. Consult your doctor or pharmacist before drinking alcohol if you are taking a prescription or over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think someone has been poisoned, call Poison Help, 1-800-222-1222, to reach your local poison center. This national toll-free number works anywhere in the U.S. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Keep this number near your home phone and in all cell phones.
  • When you leave your children in a babysitter’s care, ensure he/she knows about the Poison Help number – 1-800-222-1222.
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