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Health & Parenting

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Prescription Pills: The New Drug of Choice for Teens

Preventive Parenting continued...

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.)

Finally, parents should watch for behavior change. "Signs could be alterations in your son's or daughter's sleep/wake cycle or mood patterns — or you might observe a new level of secretiveness and sneaking around," says Dr. Weiss. The specific indications can be as seemingly minor as your child copying song lyrics about drugs in her notebooks. "Granted, all of these things can occur normally during adolescence, and every kid is different," Dr. Weiss adds, "but parents tend to know their kids well — and when they are really changing."

Like Torgersen, whose grades barely dipped, many kids become functioning addicts, and even observant parents may miss or misinterpret what symptoms there are. When Francine Haight looks back on the last months of Ryan's life, she realizes that there were small clues: He was more quiet than usual, slept more, and started hanging out with friends she didn't like. At the time she rationalized that he was reacting to her divorce from his father, the death of their dog, school pressures, or his sister's leaving for college — anything but drugs. "I just didn't pick up on the signs," she says.

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