Not In My House

By Natalie Zupo for BlueSuitMom

One in five teens abuse prescription drugs. This is a spine-tingling statistic. One that should shake the soul and have you asking, "What can I do to make sure my child is not one of these kids?" You hear the stories, you watch the news, but never do you think this could be happening "in my house." Not until you look at the pain in Gary Neil's eyes ever since his son Harrison died from combining prescription and over-the-counter medications.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet with Gary Neil and his daughter Jordan. I was thankful they shared their story with me. However, the whole time, I just kept thinking how difficult it must be to relive their experience every day. I listened as Gary Neil described Harrison as a good kid. He spent time with his family, lent a hand around the house, helped the neighbors, volunteered in the community, was active in school, and was overall just a good kid. Never once did they think that Harrison wouldn't be here today. When Gary realized his son had a problem, he got him help immediately. Help which included counseling, random drug testing, and intensive outpatient rehabilitation. There was no limit to things that Gary would do to help his son. Yet, even with all Gary's efforts and Harrison's strides to become better, the unthinkable happened. The day before Thanksgiving 2006, Harrison had been battling a cold, and had combined his cold medicine with someone else's prescription drugs, and never woke up.

Gary Neil and his daughter Jordan are now sharing their story with others in hopes that by bringing this issue to the forefront, they can help save lives. They are vocal advocates against prescription drug abuse, alerting local communities about its alarming prevalence among young people. Through open discussions about their loss, they are committed to promoting efforts that will help reduce teen prescription drug abuse.

And yet, as I sat there listening to their horrible story and fought back the tears in my eyes, I couldn't help but think, "Could this really happen in my house?" The answer is YES it could. But if we are aware of the issue and take steps to prevent any possibilities, the chances will be much lower. The resources exist and help and education is available. Abbott, a pharmaceutical company, has teamed up with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to create a resource to help. The website, Not In My House offers insight on talking about the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse with teens. This site helps explain how the teen brain may make them more vulnerable to addiction and also details the teen drug culture and lingo to help parents relate and help.

I learned that a "pharm party" is when kids go into their parents' medicine cabinets, take out a few tablets from a medicine bottle and bring them to a party. Everyone then puts the pills they brought into a big bowl in the middle of the table, mix it up a little, and then kids just grab and digest whatever they happen to pick up. They have no idea what it is, how much it is, or what it can do. To me, this is just unfathomable. Do these parties really exist? But the facts are just such. According to a national survey of teens, more than half of teens who reported abusing prescription medications said they got the medication in their own home or from a parent or relative.

So what can you do? You can become aware and visit Not In My House to learn three simple steps you can take to help secure your home.

  1. MONITOR - An inventory of prescription medications in the home can help you know what you have and what you don't need anymore. You should count the pills left in the bottle or package after each dose. Then check the supply regularly for missing pills.

  2. SECURE - Prescription drugs should not be readily accessible to everyone in the house. You should treat prescription medicines the same way you treat other valuables in your home. Remember when you "baby-proofed" the house before baby even came home from the hospital? Well, in the same way you should "teen-proof" your home as well. Medications should be stored in a safe and secure place for only those who need them.

  3. DISPOSE - Leftover or expired prescriptions should be disposed of properly. One suggestion is to put pills in a non-see-through container with something unpleasant mixed in (like old coffee grounds or kitty litter). The container should be sealed and put in the trash.
These are just a few tips that Not In My House offers. Experts and specialists have also taken up efforts to help in this initiative. Dr. Anthony Wolf, a noted teen psychologist and author of numerous books on parenting teens and children, offers three tips for parents to have productive talks with their teens.

  • Persist - You should have a clear idea of what you are going to say going into a conversation with your teen. Decide to have "the talk" and do it. Your persistence will make a difference.

  • Stay on the Subject - You are going to find that when talking with your teen, you may feel compelled to bring up other subjects (like the fact that your teen came home late last weekend). Try your best to stick to the subject at hand and not veer off.
  • Say what you want to say and then end it - Don't wait for your teen's response. Just by saying what you need to say, you are making your point a part of your teen's consciousness. When they start asking "are you done yet", just simply say "yes I amů thank you for listening."

    These are just a couple of examples that the Not In My House initiative has to offer. You may not have teens yet. And you may be wondering how this all even affects me. But believe it or not, it does or it will. Do you have nieces and nephews? Do you have kids, that will (believe it or not) eventually be tweens and then before you know it teens? This is real. And you can learn to make a real difference.

    Make your house safe and secure so you won't ever have to deal with the fear, heartache, regret, or pain of losing a child to prescription drug abuse. The threat is real - just ask Gary or Jordan Neil. It can happen in your house. It can happen to your kids. Please visit Not In My House to be sure it doesn't happen to you!