It's impossible to know how many times children and teens get their hands on prescription drugs they shouldn't have. What's far more certain is it probably happens much too often.
An Antioch middle-schooler who handed out prescription pain pills to several classmates last week is the latest local example of a burgeoning problem that should concern us all. Events like these must force us to re-evaluate how we store and handle prescription drugs, and to take steps to be more vigilant to protect our children.
In the Antioch case, police say an Antioch Upper Grade School student took hydrocodone pills from her mother's prescription bottle and gave them to 10 classmates.
Some of the students ingested the pills, some didn't. All were taken to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville for evaluation and precautionary reasons. The student who provided the pills has been advised not to return to school until the investigation is complete.
The incident illustrates how easy it can be for children and teens to obtain and abuse prescription medication. The truth is the use of prescription drugs is very prevalent in our society. We all know at least one person, maybe someone in our own house, who takes prescription medication -- or a combination of medications -- for pain after surgery or depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more.
A result of that acceptance may be that we become lax on how such medication is stored or guarded. Have you, for example, ever gone to someone's house and seen prescription bottles on the kitchen counter?
Such easy access poses serious health risks to children. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says prescription and over-the-counter drugs, after marijuana and alcohol, are the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.
Some stronger pain medications, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, have effects similar to heroin, and research suggests abuse of those drugs may open the door to heroin abuse.
Prescription medications should be out of reach of children and teens, and locked up if necessary, especially if a potential abuse problem exists in the household. If medications are outdated and no longer being used, they should be disposed of properly.
Recently, several suburban police departments participated in the semiannual National Drug Take-Back Initiative. The DEA collected more than 25,000 pounds of unwanted and unused medication in Illinois during last year's event. Many police departments have installed prescription drug disposal boxes at their stations.
It's ironic that medications designed to heal have the potential to do so much damage when put in the wrong hands. Keep that in mind before leaving your prescription bottle on the kitchen counter -- or anywhere that it could become an easy temptation for someone other than the intended user.