Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse

Did you know that heroin addiction often starts with the use of a legal, prescribed medication?  

Did you know that heroin addiction often starts with the use of a legal, prescribed medication?  

Painkillers and heroin belong to the same class of drugs, opioids- and opioids of any kind can be dangerously addictive. Once an addictive prescription drug becomes too expensive or difficult to obtain, harder drugs can often seem like the only way to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms, resulting in a new, even more dangerous addiction. 

 We went to Sandor Cheka, Executive Director of Addiction Prevention Coalition in Birmingham, AL, for what you need to know about prescription drug addiction: 

  •  What is the connection between Rx medications and heroin use? 

According to Drexel University’s School of Public Health, four out of five young injection drug users used a prescription drug long before injecting heroin.  

  •  How are teens able to access these drugs? 

64% of high schoolers get their prescriptions for misuse from a friend or family member. Because we have such a high prescription rate, we also have easy access and availability in Alabama. One individual once told us that he could walk into any home in his neighborhood and walk out with some medication to abuse, often times without the knowledge of the homeowner.  

  •  How prevalent is Rx drug abuse? 

Alabama students ages 12-17 are using prescription pain medications for nonmedical use at a rate of 14.8% higher than the national average. This does not take into account drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, or study drugs like Adderall or Ritalin. We are seeing teens use drugs to both study and to get high.  

  •  What are some of the more commonly abused Rx drugs? 

Opiates (Oxycontin, Lortab, Codeine cough syrup, Vicodin, Percocet, Roxicodone), anxiety meds (Xanax. Klonopin, Valium), and study drugs which are in the amphetamine family (Adderall, Ritalin). Opiate-based medication are generally the most destructive long term, however any misuse of prescription medication can lead to an addiction. 

  •  What are the signs of addiction? 

For the parent, we encourage folks to know some of the telltale signs of use, like dilated or constricted pupils, loss of interest in hobbies, changes in grades, friends, activities, or cash flow, and missing pills. Often parents know there is something not quite right. We encourage families to act quickly and seek a local counselor. Often times it will not be an addiction issue, but an opportunity to address the root cause before a dependence develops. The counselor will also help navigate the next steps if any are needed. 

 “If a prescription is given, we encourage parents to be in control of the medications at all times. The parents should dispense the medication based on doctor’s orders and not more frequently unless advised by the prescribing doctor to do so.” 


 SándorCheka, III, Executive Director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition, strives to find ways that the community can work together to address the growing need for substance abuse issues. The organization was recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services as a “coalition to model.” Rev. Cheka holds a B.S. from Samford University and two Masters degrees from Mercer University in Business Administration and Divinity.  

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