While school programs such as DARE teach most children the harmful effects of marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, or methamphetamine, the biggest substance abuse problem facing young adults might be the one that’s right under your nose, but rarely talked about.

Young adults (18 to 25-year-olds) are the biggest abusers of prescription drugs in the United States but it’s a problem that’s rarely discussed and even lesser known than problems with drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. Opioid pain relievers (Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc.), ADHD drugs (Adderall, Ritalin), and anti-anxiety medication (Xanax, Valium) are the most commonly abused drugs in this demographic, yet most parents aren’t even aware that their own prescriptions are responsible for approximately 3,000 overdose deaths each year. The number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs (typically opioids) exceeds the number of deaths caused by the more widely known problems associated with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – combined.

For each of those 3,000 deaths there were 66 emergency room visits, and 17 admissions into short or long-term drug treatment programs. What’s worse is the fact that this problem is still flying under the radar even after we’ve seen a 250-percent increase in the number of overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010.

How Do Young Adults Access Prescription Drugs?

Much like heroin, cocaine or many other popular street drugs, pharmaceuticals are often bought and sold by individuals. While availability through dealers is certainly a reality, most of these drugs come right from an adult’s medicine cabinet. Nearly 50-percent of the United States population takes at least one prescription medication, which gives young adults their pick of medications taken by parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents or relatives of their friends.

In addition, “pharming” (pronounced “farming”) is a newer trend that essentially acts as a prescription drug swap meet by holding parties for young adults to exchange, purchase, or sell pharmaceuticals in addition to providing a place to get high with their friends. While pharming is the most commonly known name, you might also hear these parties referred to as “Skittles parties” or just “skittling.”

What Can Parents Do to Prevent Young Adults from Accessing Prescription Drugs?

There isn’t often a great deal that a parent can do to keep kids from accessing pharmaceuticals through friends, or acquaintances, but they can take steps to secure their own prescriptions. Locking them up, monitoring quantities used/left, and disposing of unused or expired medications can help to cut off the supply of pharmaceuticals available to young adults.

In addition to monitoring your own prescriptions, communication is an important aspect to prevention as some young adults have a false sense of safety when taking prescription medications. Pharmaceuticals are often perceived as safer and more reliable ways to get high when compared with the relative unknowns faced by users that abuse street drugs. For example, little is known about heroin or methamphetamine types due to the unknown origin of the drug before it made its way to the dealer, and as such it may contain a host of filler ingredients that decrease overall quality or cause harmful side effects. A sense of security that is often lacking with street drugs isn’t as apparent in doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals and may lead users to consume higher quantities of the drug or taking unknown pills in an attempt to get high.

There’s certainly no way to remove access to the supply of prescription drugs, but education does go a long way in helping young adults to understand that these drugs carry their own set of risks, whether it be from accidental overdose, or long-term dependence.

Do your part by ensuring that your prescription drugs don’t fall into the hands of your young adult and keep actively educating them about the dangers of this and other substances and the long-term negative implications they can have on their lives.

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, please contact us today to find out how we can help.