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Before you talk with your kids, it’s good to know the facts.  Below is essential information for parents about prescription drug misuse and abuse, including  ideas for what you can say to your kids, action tips for safeguarding medication in your home, warning signs, and helpful resources.

Risks of Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse

Overdosing on prescription pain killers can have harmful effects on the brain and body, even death. Prescription drugs are potentially addictive and relying on medication at a young age may lead to a lifelong pattern of depending on them.  

Medications Most Commonly Misused and Abused

  • Medicines can be helpful for many issues, but they need to be monitored carefully.
    • Painkillers e.g., Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin (also called opioids)
    • Sedatives for treating anxiety or sleep disorders, e.g., Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan
    • Stimulants for treating ADHD, e.g., Ritalin, Adderall

Visit NIDA  to learn more about the types of abused prescription medication.

How to Talk to Your Kids

  • Provide and maintain an open environment for discussing any substance abuse issues.
  • Clearly state they may not use any medications that were not prescribed for them.
  • Make it clear to your children that the abuse of prescription drugs can be just as, if not more, harmful than some street drugs.
  • Remind them that taking another person’s prescription or sharing their prescriptions with someone else is illegal.
  • Explain that you will hold onto their pill bottles and oversee their doses and refills. If they need medications during school, you are required to work out a plan with the school nurse or principal to give them to your child. You can also often ask their doctor for a pill that can be given only once or twice a day.
  • If your kids are taking medicines for pain, anxiety, sleep or ADHD talk to their doctor about how the medicine should be taken.  Share the expectations with your child.  If you have any concerns, contact your health care provider.
  • Make it clear to your kids that your feelings about prescription drugs are about their health, wellbeing and safety.
  • For videos and tips on how to spark the conversation about the safer use of prescription drugs visit our Parent Power Facebook page. 

A Few Warning Signs of Prescription Abuse or Misuse among Youth

  • Fatigue, red or glazed eyes, and repeated health complaints.
  • Mood changes, including irritability, negative attitude, personality changes, and general lack of interest in hobbies or activities.
  • Secretiveness and withdrawing from family.
  • Decreased or even obsessive focus on school work.
  • Missing prescription medicines.
  • Changes in behavior or relationships that make you uncomfortable.
  • Additional filled prescriptions on your pharmacy record that you did not order.

Safeguarding Your Medication

  • Keep prescription drugs in a secure and safe place. Locked or hidden areas are the best options.
  • To dispose of unused medications in a safer way:*
  • Keep medications in their original containers. Leave drug names visible to help identify the contents if they are accidentally swallowed. Cross out other personal information on labels to make it unreadable.
  • Disguise the medications in their containers:
    • For pills: add some water or soda to dissolve them
    • For liquids: add inedible material like cat litter, coffee grounds or dirt
  • Close the lids and secure with tape.
  • Check to see if there is a permanent waste medication collection site in your town or city. If not, hide medication containers in the trash. DO NOT put them in your recycle bin!

* The information sheet that came with your medication may tell you to flush it down the drain. For instance, these drugs should be flushed away because they are dangerous to other people and pets:

Actiq (fentanyl citrate)
Daytrana Transdermal Patch (methylphenidate)
Duragesic Transdermal System (fentanyl)
OxyContin Tablets (oxycodone)
Avinza Capsules (morphine sulfate)
Baraclude Tablets (entecavir)
Reyataz Capsules (atazanavir sulfate)
Tequin Tablets (gatifloxacin)
Zerit for Oral Solution (stavudine)
Meperidine HCl Tablets
Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen)
Xyrem (Sodium Oxybate)
Fentora (fentanyl buccal tablet)

  • Monitor online activity for illegal purchases. Keep your computer in an open space.
  • Alert your family health care provider if you are concerned; ask them to speak with your kids about the safe and legal use of prescription medication.

Any concern that you have about your kids can be checked out with health care providers.

Action Tips to Address Prescription Drug Misuse and/or Other Abuse

Children in middle school and high school are at very different stages of their lives -- so there are different ways to use your Parent Power to prevent them from using prescription drugs for the wrong reasons. Choose the grade level of your child to learn more:

Prevention Tips for Your Middle School-Aged Child

Prevention Tips for Your High School-Aged Adolescent

For information on how you and your community can deal with prescription drug misuse, see Their Future Depends on You and Stop Addiction In Its Tracks for tips for protecting your kids from addiction.

If you are concerned about your child’s use of alcohol, other drugs, or misuse of prescriptions the Department’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) can help.

For  free and confidential information and referral services for youth and young adults (up to age 24) who are experiencing a problem with any of these substances, contact BSAS’ Youth Central Intake & Care Coordination service:

Toll Free:  866-705-2807 /   617-661-3991
TTY:  617-661-9051 Your health insurance provider can also inform you of services.

Thanks for using your Parent Power to help keep children in middle school and high school on track.


This information is provided by the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services at the Department of Public Health.