Sue Scheff: Teen Drug Issues

As a parent advocate, I always welcome valuable information and websites that can help educate parents and others with today’s concerns with substance abuse and other issues surrounding our children. website has a wide variety of educational information for parents and adult caregivers of teens – also check out the Q&A below with Karen Reed, the American Pharmacists Association’s national spokesperson for American Pharmacists. – a Web site created by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to equip parents and adult caregivers with the tools they need to raise drug-free kids.  You might have seen ads on TV recently calling attention to the issue of teen prescription drug abuse.

Unfortunately, growing numbers of teens are abusing prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to get high or to cope with school and social pressures.  Many teens say these drugs are not only easy to get, but also that they think they are a safe way to get high.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  (SAMHSA), everyday 2,000 kids age 12 to 17 abuse a painkiller for the very first time. SAMHSA also finds:

•       More teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana
•       Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice

To provide answers to common parent questions about teen prescription drug abuse, has teamed up with pharmacist Karen Reed, spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association. 

The Rx drug information is currently highlighted on the homepage of, including an interactive house tour ( which highlights locations where teens can find prescription and OTC drugs, tips for parents on how to prevent abuse  and to talk to your teen about prescription drug abuse, along with much more.

Q&A with Karen Reed, spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association

Q: I hear about kids taking various pills – uppers, downers, painkillers, etc., that have been prescribed for their parents. What can those drugs do to teens who have not been prescribed those medications?

A: It is always difficult to predict what type of reaction teens will have to medication not prescribed for them, especially when we don’t know the dose they will abuse — and if it will be taken with other drugs or alcohol. Uppers can cause hostility, paranoia, or seizures. These drugs can affect motor skills, impair judgment, and affect the heart. Downers and painkillers can decrease concentration, impair judgment, and slow motor skills. Taking downers and painkillers in excess can also cause sedation and seizures. Imagine a teen driver under the influence of these drugs driving a motor vehicle — this combination could prove deadly as well. (

Q: My son tells me his friends take pills that aren’t theirs and sometimes take them when they’re drinking alcohol. What is the resulting effect and what can I tell him to scare him away from experimenting?

A: No one, adults or teens, should take medication with alcohol. Teens who are taking medication that is not prescribed for them are probably also taking excessive doses. And mixing that medication with alcohol could prove deadly for teenagers. The effect of the medication could be intensified, causing the teen to stop breathing or have a seizure that could be fatal. If this practice is combined with driving, others could be injured as well. The combination of medication and alcohol could lead to poor judgment that could cause serious injuries or worse. Teenagers often feel invincible. The combination of drugs and alcohol may intensify this belief.

Q: We keep cold, cough, and other over-the-counter medications in the house. What is the best way to monitor those medications?

A: Over-the-counter medications are safe and effective for some people when used properly under a medical professional’s guidance. However, the ingredients, when abused, can be taken to get high. Therefore keep them in limited quantities and monitor their use as you would a prescription drug. Never use them to help your teen or yourself sleep. Children (regardless of their age) mimic adult behavior. Be a good role model and never abuse OTC products yourself. (

Q: My child has prescribed medications she takes regularly. How do I ensure those pills are not abused?

A: Keep track of the number of pills that should be on hand. Keep track of refills, lost pills, and request for refills. Paying close attention to use will help prevent abuse.

Q: What are some of the signs I can look for if I suspect my teen has been abusing prescription drugs?

A: It is easy for parents to miss prescription drug abuse because mood changes, temper outbursts, changes in sleeping habits and interests are typical teenage behaviors. You can smell alcohol and tobacco and marijuana — you can’t smell pills. Watch for changes in grooming, habits, and interests. Watch for negative changes in school work, school attendance, and declining grades. Watch for increased secrecy, changes in friends, and increased needs for money. Monitor your own prescription drugs and encourage friends and family to do the same. (
Karen L. Reed, the American Pharmacists Association’s national spokesperson for American Pharmacists Month, is a graduate of West Virginia University School of Pharmacy and a staff pharmacist with Kmart in Beckley, West Virginia.  She is a consultant pharmacist for Beckley Surgery Center and is serving her second term as chair of West Virginia’s Medicaid Drug Utilization Review Board. Reed is a preceptor for WVU PharmD candidates and a GlaxoSmithKline community pharmacy advisory board member. She is an APhA Fellow, past APhA- Academy of Pharmacy Practice and Management officer, past President of the West Virginia Pharmacists Association, recipient of the National Community Pharmacists Association Leadership Award, Merck Pharmacist Recognition Award, and the Wyeth-Ayerst Bowl of Hygeia.  In 2002, Reed was named Kmart Pharmacist of the Year.