Dangerous drugs aren't just the illegal ones; prescription medicines can be abused, as well.
“Our country is very addicted to prescription medications. People think because they got a prescription drug from a doctor, it's a safe medication. But a lot of these drugs are like cocaine and heroin,” said Joan McVoy, the Nebraska Regional Poison Center's nurse educator.
And kids are abusing their parents' drugs. Stealing them for fun. The outcome can be deadly.
Teens are scouting their own homes and those of their friends. They're robbing the medicine cabinets and bedside tables or kitchen counters for sleeping pills, pain medicines, anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, stimulants used to control hyperactivity, and even over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.
“One in six teens has taken a prescription for fun,” McVoy said. “In our country there are more deaths from prescription drug abuse than car accidents.”
Nearly half the callers to the Nebraska Regional Poison Center ask about prescription drugs.
Located near Children's Hospital & Medical Center, the Omaha center is one of 57 such sites affiliated with the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Experts nationwide answer more than 10,000 calls a day about everything from snakebite to pills.
At Nebraska's center, about half the calls are about potentially hazardous things children under 6 put in their mouths: hearing aid batteries, pills found on the floor, household cleaning products.
The rest are calls about prescription drugs. Drug overdose is considered a serious poisoning event.
About 90 percent of callers reporting poison emergencies were guided to provide treatment at home following the advice of poison center experts, saving an estimated $1.19 billion in medical expenses such as unnecessary ER trips or ambulance costs, according to AAPCC estimates.
Calls to poison centers are coming in from concerned parents who find their teens are taking prescription medications not prescribed for them in amounts and combinations that can cause overdose and death — whether by accident or just plain foolishness.
Are your medications (and those over at Grandma's house) safeguarded from your own kids? And not only from snooping teens, but also from anyone who might enter your home seeking drugs.
“If you have an open house with a real estate agent, people who present as home buyers may look for your prescription drugs,” said Eric Depue, the drug-free communities coordinator for the LiveWise Coalition.
Other people who come into your home such as house cleaners, repair people and your teenager's friends could be snatching the pain meds left over from your back surgery or the legitimately prescribed stimulants for ADHD.
LiveWise is a five-county nonprofit group dedicated to preventing the use and abuse of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Depue has created an educational piece for real estate agents to use with home sellers to remind them to secure any valuables — and now medications — from overly interested visitors.
Simply having drugs in a drawer or closet is not enough.
“Even secured boxes such as a locked gun case are not totally safe,” Depue said. “We tell parents to be aware of the problem because so many don't realize this medication can have these effects on kids.
“Know what drugs you have, how many pills, and where they are. Talk to your kids about the dangers.”
When you're finished with a prescription and have pills left over, get rid of them.
“Don't flush medications down the toilet,” said LiveWise's Depue. “The chemicals can pollute the water supply.”
The best advice is to remove unneeded drugs from your home. Thanks to the work of LiveWise and the Nebraska Regional Poison Center, you have options for disposing of unwanted and unused medications.
Most Hy-Vee store pharmacies are happy to take back any medications (except controlled substances) every day.
On April 27, LiveWise is coordinating Drug Take-Back Day with the Drug Enforcement Administration at five Omaha locations: Westroads Mall Safety Expo (parking lot by public safety vehicles on display); Hy-Vee, 180th and Pacific Streets (parking lot by pharmacy); and at three Walgreens parking lots at 30th and Lake Streets, 84th and Harrison Streets, and 156th Street and West Maple Road.
Depue said you can drive up and hand over your prescription meds, over-the-counter medicines, pet medications, and even controlled substances such as oxycodone, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin, and hydrocodone. No illicit drugs will be accepted.
There is no paperwork. Drugs are boxed and shipped to a location that environmentally incinerates the drugs.
If you can't bring medications to a collection site, take your prescription label off pill bottles. Then fill the bottle with water and coffee grounds or kitty litter to make the substance undesirable. Conceal the bottle in a plastic bag and then throw it in the trash.
For more information about other area collection sites during Drug Take-Back Day, go to the DEA website at www.dea.gov or the LiveWise Coalition at www.livewisecoalition.org.