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Prescription Pills: The New Drug of Choice for Teens

Preventive Parenting

In September 2006, a few months after the Operation Painkiller bust and with a newfound awareness of their drug problem, the townspeople stationed police officers at Whippany Park and its sister school full-time to get to know the kids and keep an eye on their activities. A year later, the school district instituted a random-drug-screening policy, whereby kids are tested and, if the results are positive, parents are notified. The policy has been controversial among parents concerned for their kids' privacy, but anecdotal evidence suggests a reduction in abuse. "These measures have been a deterrent," says Sibila Dubac, guidance coordinator and substance-awareness coordinator for Whippany Park High School. "They've increased awareness and decreased incidents." She adds that kids are afraid of getting caught, and don't want to lose on-campus parking or extracurricular privileges.

Regardless of what measures schools take, however, primary responsibility for keeping kids drug-free remains with parents — and there are steps you can take to reduce your child's risks. "Parents need to talk about drugs with their kids, not just to them," says Haight. "You learn so much when you let them talk, and once they know you're receptive, they're not afraid to come to you." As for when and how to approach the topic, "there's no easy answer that will apply to all families," says Faddis. You know your child and what she responds to best. "But your attitude is important," he adds. "If you seem to be disciplining, rather than nurturing, she may just get defensive." You want your child to be safe — that's what you need to communicate to her. He recommends starting with something like, "I'm worried, because drugs are a big problem and anyone can be sucked in, especially if they have bad information. I don't want you to get hurt." Be brief (experts say that the effectiveness of the discussion falls off after the first few minutes); have this conversation more than once; and be honest — it's your conviction, as much as the facts, that will carry weight with your child. If you want a supplement to fill her in on the details, the DEA has an educational Website for teens on the topic of drug abuse: justthinktwice.com. In accessible language, the site covers all kinds of drugs, including controlled-substance prescription meds, and offers advice from peers, as well as links to where kids can find help.

Another critical step, says Pill Head author Lyon, is to remove temptation from your house. Though it may sound obvious, few parents take the precaution of locking up their prescriptions, noting on the bottles how many pills should be left in each — and checking them every two weeks. "If you buy a gun, you don't just keep it lying around," he points out. "You lock it up in a safety box." If your child takes a daily prescription, like Ritalin, keep the bottle yourself and give him only a day's worth of pills at a time. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America's Not in My House campaign suggests further that you dispose of any leftover pills by mixing them with kitty litter or coffee grounds to make them unpalatable, putting the mixture into an empty can or bag, and throwing it in the trash. (Flushing pills down the toilet can cause them to leach into the water supply.)

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