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“Study Drugs”: NOW is the Time to Talk with Your Teens about Prescription Drugs

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When thinking about opportunities to talk with our kids about drug and alcohol use as they approach the end of the school year, two things usually come to mind: prom and graduation. What many parents don’t think about is finals season.

Amidst increasing pressure to make good grades and prepare for college, teens are increasingly turning to prescription drugs used as “study drugs,” to stay alert, increase focus, or relieve anxiety. In fact, according to the National Institute on  Drug Abuse for Teens, after marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans age 14 and older, and here in Colorado, 14% of youth have used prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, according to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

Direct conversations about prescription drug use and abuse are important and necessary. One way to continually shape your teen’s view of prescription drugs is to teach them to respect the power of medicine and the importance of using it as intended/prescribed.  

As parents, we can model for our children what safe use of prescriptions looks like. If you take prescriptions, read the drug facts info sheets accompanying the prescription in front of your kids. Use the information as an opportunity to remind your kids that care must be used when taking prescription drugs. “I was just reading my medication’s facts, and learned that if I took too many, I could be at risk for a heart attack. It’s pretty important to follow those instructions, isn’t it?” 

In addition, it is important for parents to practice and model safe storage and safe disposal of prescription medications, such as storing them in a lock box, keeping track of prescription drugs, and disposing of medications that aren’t being used. To find disposal options for prescription drugs near you, please visit

Going to pick up your child’s antibiotics from the pharmacy can also be a starting point for a conversation about responsible prescription drug use. Remind your kids that doctors prescribe medication based on each specific person’s body and needs, and taking someone else’s prescription drugs could be dangerous. For example, “The doctor prescribed you this antibiotic. What do you think would happen if I took it? Do you think it would work in the same way that it would on your body? Would it be wrong if I took it?”

Finals season may be a time for teens to embrace prescription drug abuse, but the conversation can – and should – last year-round. For more resources to help you talk with your kids about prescription drug use and other substances, visit Speak Now Colorado.

Steve Martinez is a substance abuse prevention coordinator at Tri-County Health Department and coordinates the Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. In partnership with Mile High Mamas. 

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