By Jennifer Kimber, Community Prevention Specialist
One of the most serious threats to our youth may be lurking right in your medicine cabinet! The nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is becoming more of a serious health problem in the United States and in Northeast Iowa. The Iowa Governor’s Office states that almost 1 in 4 (24%) of Iowa middle school and high school students do not know that using prescription drugs, not prescribed to them, puts them at harm. Every single day in the United States, 2,500 youth ages 12-17 abuse a pain reliever for the first time, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Why are these drugs so addictive and dangerous?
Pain relievers, such as Vicodin, fall into a group of drugs known as opioids, which have powerful sedative effects. Central nervous system stimulants and depressants are also abused. These pain relievers are the most serious threat because of their high addictive qualities. Many youth and adults who become addicted to painkillers eventually turn to the drug heroin to support their addiction. Heroin becomes the cheaper alternative. Many prescription drugs act on the brain in a way that makes you “feel good” or “produces a rush,” also known as a “high.” Another reason people abuse prescription and over-the-counter medications is to stay awake, concentrate, or study. However, users quickly build a tolerance and have to take larger amounts to feel the same effects. Their bodies become dependent on the drug, and they feel they have to have it to feel “normal.” Abuse of these drugs is not only dangerous, but it can lead to adverse health effects, addiction, overdose, and death.
How can you do your part in protecting local youth?
You can start by cleaning out your medicine cabinet! Many people do not properly dispose of unused or expired medications. For example, throwing them in the garbage is not safe. Addicts or experimenting youth are willing to dumpster dive to retrieve those medications. Flushing them down the toilet can be an environmental hazard. One way to clean out your cabinet is to work with the Northeast Iowa Drug Task Force. They collect hundreds of pounds of unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs during National Drug Take Back Events. These events take place annually, generally in the spring. Some communities have drug drop-off boxes that are available at all times to allow for more frequent drug disposal. Cresco and Oelwein are two cities that currently have these drop-off boxes. You can also check with your local pharmacies, as some will also accept unwanted medications for proper disposal.
I encourage you to find out which avenues your community has to dispose of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, so that we may keep them out of the hands of youth and others who may abuse them. Continue this conversation with local law enforcement and area pharmacies to encourage local programs to be established for more frequent and safe drug disposal. For more information on this topic, contact me at 563.387.1720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.