Short stuff: Health roundupTeen drug use is on the decline, but prescription medications continue to be a dangerous threat to teenagers and small children at home and emergency doctors want parents and caregivers to be vigilant.
In early September, a government report showed a drop in drug abuse among children ages 12 to 17, as well as a 12 percent hike in the use of prescription pain killers among young adults ages 18 to 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that though there has been a notable drop in overall drug use, deaths from drug abuse among 15- to 24-year-olds more than doubled between 1999 and 2005.
"It is very important to keep in mind that medication prescribed or intended for adults can be very harmful to children even in smaller doses," says Dr. Mac Nichols, an emergency room doctor in Chicago. "Only use medication as your doctor has prescribed and only on the person it was prescribed to."
A study conducted with poison centers across the country between January 2003 and June 2006 found that thousands of very young children accidentally ingested opiates prescribed for adults.
"Don’t disregard certain medication or vitamins because you think they are safe," says Nichols. "Some compounds safe for adults can be very harmful to children, especially in the dosages given to adults. Some cough syrups contain codeine—a medication that can cause children to stop breathing in even small adult doses."
And because experts have also seen an increase in the abuse of prescription drugs by teens and tweens, who often see these as safe alternatives to street drugs, parents should monitor Internet use for shopping on pharmaceutical Web sites and discuss with neighbors and parents of your children’s friends the importance of keeping prescription medications locked away.
Nichols echoes these recommendations and offers a few additional tips for younger children. "Not only is it important to keep pill bottles out of reach of children, be careful to avoid places that children can climb. Safety latches on cabinets are a great deterrent."
He also urges parents to be mindful of purses lying around—especially when friends and family visit. "Many children who come to the emergency department with an overdose got the pills from a purse lying on the floor or a bottle that was not put up."
But even when parents believe they’ve taken every precaution, sometimes accidents happen.
"Every time a child—or adult for that matter—gets into medication or anything that could be harmful, they should be evaluated by a physician," Nichols says. Poison Control is available 24 hours a day at (800) 222-1222.
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