OSCEOLA and MECOSTA COUNTY – Kim Livingston knows that prescription drug abuse is a problem for local teens.

Through her work as a Prevention Coordinator with the Ten Sixteen Recovery Network in Big Rapids, Livingston has heard astonishing confessions regarding teens and prescription drug abuse.

The Network provides substance abuse treatment and prevention to Gladwin, Clare, Midland, Mecosta, Osceola, and Isabella counties. In these six counties, prescription drug abuse is the third leading cause of treatment, following the abuse of alcohol and marijuana.

“I know a young man who hurt his ankle,” said Livingston. “Before he walked from his car in the parking lot to the school entrance, multiple kids had approached him, asking what he was prescribed and if he had any extra.”

Prescription drug abuse is intentionally taking a medication that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed. Abuse of prescription drugs can produce serious health effects, including addiction.

According to The Partnership for a Drug Free America, one in five teens has abused prescription painkillers, tranquilizers or stimulants.

“Prescription drug abuse has been a growing problem,” says Big Rapids Ten Sixteen Recovery Network counselor Christa Galer, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC.

“I talk with adolescents who are telling me that they are buying, selling and trading various medications taken from their parents or grandparents medicine cabinet; crushing and inhaling their friend’s medication in their high school bathroom or taking their friend’s mother’s prescriptions.”

Many teens turn to prescription drug abuse due to false sense of security. They think that the drugs are safe since a doctor prescribed them.

Another reason teens turn to prescription drugs is the ease of access to these drugs at home, a friend’s house, or the Internet.

In fact, 70 percent of teens report getting illegal prescription medications from family and friends, with or without their permission.

“I see how openly they discuss their use with friends or on their Facebook page,” adds Galer. “Our adolescents are taking pills and they do not even know what they are taking.”

The good news is that parents and guardians can help prevent prescription drug abuse by Monitoring, Securing, and Disposing their prescriptions.

To Monitor, parents should take note of how many pills are in each prescription bottle or pill packet. Parents should also keep track of the refills. If refilling medications happens more often than expected, that could indicate a problem.

Approach Securing prescriptions the same way you would other valuables in your home, like jewelry or cash. There’s no shame in helping protect those items. The same holds true for medication. Parents are urged to take prescription medications out of the medicine cabinet and hide them in a place only they know about. If possible, keep all medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, in a safe place, such as a locked cabinet teens cannot access.

Safely Disposing of expired or unused prescription medications is a critical step in helping protect teens. Unless the directions on the packaging say otherwise, do not flush medication down the drain or toilet. Flushing can lead to contaminants getting into the ground water.

Most people don’t lock up their prescription medications, nor do they discard them when they are no longer needed for their intended use, making them vulnerable to theft or misuse.

Would you notice if one or two pills were missing from your prescriptions? Chances are, you probably wouldn’t and that is what addicts are betting on.

The Ten Sixteen Recovery Network and local law enforcement are hoping to make prescription drugs even harder for teens to obtain by participating in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Take Back Initiative.

Now is the time to clean out your medicine cabinets and properly dispose of all your unwanted or expired medications.

“The main reason for the Prescription Drug Take Back is to make sure younger kids don’t get their hands on medicine that is dangerous to their health,” said Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis.

“We had great success last year and hope to do well again this year.”

Last year, 143 pounds of pills were collected in Osceola County alone.

From Monday, April 25 through Sunday, April 30, you can drop off your unused pills during regular business hours at the following participating law enforcement agencies: Michigan State Police post in Reed City, Mecosta and Osceola Sheriff’s departments, Reed City Police, Evart Police, Big Rapids Police, as well as FSU Campus police.

“We are hoping to reduce abuse of prescription medication and reduce the availability of teens to abuse it,” said Livingston. “If they can’t get a hold of it, they can’t abuse it. With this event, we are going to make it difficult for teens to abuse prescription drugs.”

“We need to clear out our cabinets so these prescriptions don’t get into the hands of minors,” added Chief Davis. “If we get rid of them maybe we can save a few lives.”

Believe that teens in small communities do not abuse prescription drugs? Think again.

“I also remember one time when a parent told me the story of her son on an athletic team. When he hurt his ankle, multiple athletes offered him painkillers,” Livingston recalls.

“Many people share medication to help another person they believe is in pain. They don’t realize that sharing medications that aren’t prescribed for you is abuse and illegal.”

Sharing medications can lead to addiction.

“Many people start out taking a painkiller prescription after an injury or surgery and find that they like the feeling,” said Galer. “They continue to report pain to their doctor and their prescriptions are continued. It can start out very innocently but can grow out of control very quickly.”

They might realize they have a problem and try to wean themselves off of the medication, but the detoxing actually causes pain, so the cycle continues because they feel like they need the medication again.

“When their prescription runs out, they start asking around, and can quickly find very powerful narcotics available for sale, by the pill or in a quantity.”

If you suspect your child may be abusing prescription medications, local hospitals can draw blood for a drug test with a physician’s order. Ten Sixteen Recovery Network offers drug assessments, educational groups, along with counseling groups.

Want to know more about preventing drug abuse in your community?

Livingston has been educating local organizations on the prevalence of abuse, prevention tips, safe storage, monitoring, and proper disposal.

To sign up for a free 30 minute presentation, contact Livingston by e-mail at klivingston@1016.org or call at the Ten Sixteen Recovery Network at (231) 527-2000.

The closest Ten Sixteen Recovery Network is located at 21061 19 Mile Road, just north of Big Rapids. Hours vary, call ahead for session times. For more locations around Michigan, go to www.1016.org.

If possible, please use the following image with this article and publish it in both the Osceola Edition as well as the Big Rapids Pioneer. Thank you!