Think You Understand Prescription Drug Abuse? Explain it to a Twelve Year Old

Think You Understand Prescription Drug Abuse? Explain it to a Twelve Year Old

09.18.12 | By Kaelan Hollon

Part of my job is being able to talk about prescription drug abuse, and having hung around PhRMA for five years now, I can chat most people's ears off. I can quote scary CDC statistics, explain the basics of dopamine receptors and addiction neurology, and talk through policy options in layman's terms. I can talk to community organizers about what patient advocacy tools could help their patients, and lament the ones that do not. Last night, however, I got busted by a twelve year old for being unprepared to talk about medicine abuse on a child's terms.

As a boxer, I spend most every night holed up in a cavernous gym in Northeast DC, sweating alongside teenagers, with a few older pro's like me thrown into the mix. LJ is my manager's twelve year old son, and between sets of pushups, sat down to ask me where I go when I travel for work.

"Well, I talk to important people a lot about why prescription drug abuse is bad, and what everyone should be doing to stop it." I explained, congratulating myself on a succinct answer.

"But why would people abuse a drug if your doctor gives it to you?"

Here's where things got tougher. His question stumped me for a minute, because I've been talking to adults for so long about prescription drug abuse, I forgot how to talk to kids about same.

"Sometimes people steal or 'borrow' medicine from a family member or friend, to take it. And if a doctor didn't give you that medicine, then it could make you really sick, and sometimes people die when they keep taking it and won't stop. That's medicine 'abuse', when you take medicine the wrong way on purpose, and keep using it trying to get high."

"I mean, but it's not the same as drugs," he said with a note of skepticism.

"No, medicine isn't the same as what we think of as straight 'drugs', like crack or something. It's still a medicine first, but meant only for the people a doctor thinks should take it to get better. But the people who are stealing the drug, or taking it in a weird way like crushing it and snorting it - that's not who the medicine was meant for. So it can still be dangerous, because medicine was only made to help someone when the doctor knows everything that's going on in that person's body, and thinks that it's the best thing for them."

LJ seemed satisfied, but I was sweating far more from the pressure of conversation than from my continued pushups. I talked to his mom about it later, and walked through my response and his questions, promising to bring some materials for her to take home to continue the conversation.

I've gone over my response a few times, wishing I'd said some things differently, questioning if I explained it correctly and wishing I'd had a 'better' response prepared. I suppose that's the tough part about these conversations with kids, in that you can't rehearse and prepare for things the same way you can for a PowerPoint at a conference.

We've got some good resources available for parents on our Resources Page, and Drugfree.org has some great tools for parents who want to keep medicine safe. I'm certainly reviewing those this afternoon. Are you prepared to talk to a kid about prescription drug abuse, if they ask? What would you have said to LJ?

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