By Richard Laliberte
Mary Jane, acid, crack, crank -- slang has always been part of the drug culture. But today's teens face an especially insidious threat: a growing array of prescription and over-the-counter medications with innocent nicknames that deceive kids into thinking they're a safe high. "The attitude among many teens is that stuff they can get from a medicine cabinet or at the grocery store isn't risky, isn't addictive, and doesn't have any downside," says Steve Pasierb, president of Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
As a result, kids who wouldn't go near illegal drugs don't hesitate to down a bottle of cough syrup or a blister-pack of cold and flu pills. Twice as many teens have abused prescription drugs as have tried cocaine or heroin, according to a Partnership survey. And they're paying a terrible price. Deaths from accidental overdoses of such medications, especially painkillers like Vicodin, have increased 113 percent among youth 15 and older in recent years, according to a 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And kids are washing down all those pills with a potent new crop of fruit-flavored, caffeinated drinks with names like Sparks and Joose, some of which contain nearly 10 percent alcohol.
The abuse will continue until teens understand that all medications -- even those that are FDA-approved -- can be dangerous. "Education is critical, and it starts at home," says Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. But parents need to broaden the message they're sending to their kids. "Plenty of adults talk to their teens about drugs, but only a third of them mention prescription and OTC medicines in addition to substances like cocaine and heroin," says Pasierb. Read our report on some of the drugs teens are abusing (including the aliases they're known by), and get some practical advice from the experts on what you can do to keep your children safe from harm.