Teens new high in parents' medicine cabinet

Teens aren’t getting a popular high from shady dealers on street corners: they’re finding it in their medicine cabinet.

Adolescent abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem nationwide. Locally, counselors at the NIU Family Services Center have seen a rising number of cases, said Ellen Spiese, a Northern Illinois University graduate student who works at the center.

“Teens and adolescents are seeing prescription drug use as a safer alternative to using hard drugs,” Spiese said. “That’s not true. It’s just as dangerous as any illicit drug, especially if it’s mixed with alcohol, which it usually is at parties.”

Spiese gave a presentation at Sycamore High School in April to educate teens and parents about prescription drug abuse. School resource officer Ryan Goodman of the Sycamore Police Department also presented at the event.

“Kids don’t understand the long-term consequences of using prescription drugs,” Sycamore High School Principal Tim Carlson said. “We wanted to get information out to parents.”

Adolescents are often under the impression that drugs with a pharmacy label are safe, Goodman said. They don’t take into account that the drugs were meant to be taken by someone whose condition is being monitored by a doctor.

Among the most popular drugs for abuse are prescription painkillers like Vicodin. Goodman said when many people receive a painkiller prescription for an injury or surgery, they don’t throw out leftover pills. Those pills often sit forgotten in a drawer or cabinet, an easy target for teens looking for a high.

Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are also popular, as are stimulants like Adderall, which many children take to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“One of the biggest things is parents who don’t monitor medicines actually prescribed to their kids,” Goodman said. “Kids will sell or trade their prescription drugs for cigarettes, for money, for anything expensive.”

Goodman suggested parents whose children are on prescription medication monitor how the child takes the medicine. Parents might give the child the pill at the same time each day or might set out a single dose at a time, then lock away the rest.

Even over-the-counter medicines are suspect. Spiese said some adolescents will down an entire bottle of cough syrup in a single sitting looking for a high.

Old medications should be disposed of, and current medications should be kept in a locked box where children can’t access them, not in a cabinet, Carlson said.

Know the Signs


Prescription or over-the-counter drug abuse is often harder to detect than abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs, Sycamore High School Principal Tim Carlson said. Ellen Spiese of the NIU Family Services Center offered these red flags children may be getting involved with drugs:


• Child becomes secretive – doesn't want parents to have access to their room, phone or computer

• Child lies about where they are going or who they were with

• Child suddenly stops hanging out with old friends and doesn't want parents to meet or know about new friends

• Sudden loss of interest in previous interests

• Sudden lack of hygiene

• Difficulties at school, such as dropping grades or skipping class


If parents do suspect drug abuse, the entire family should get counseling, Spiese said, to address underlying issues and to give parents the tools to keep their children off drugs once the counseling ends.

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