YOU ASKED, WE ANSWERED: Prescription Drug Abuse

You submitted your questions about prescription drug abuse to Stephen J. Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Here are his answers.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America is a nonprofit organization that brings together communications professionals, renowned scientists and parents. Best known for its national drug-education campaign, the partnership has a mission to reduce illicit drug use in America.

Confronting a Loved One About Drug Use

Question: "I have a 20-year-old son that doesn't live with me. I have noticed several things about him that didn't seem right, so I started looking and found a bottle of pills that are peachy yellowish looking with no markings. My question is, What kind of pills could this be? Thank you."

K. Richardson from Florence, Miss.

Pasierb: A first step would be to have a conversation with your adult son expressing your concern, before jumping to any conclusions about what could possibly be a legitimate prescription.

For a parent with kids living at home, finding unknown pills in a child's room should serve as an immediate "moment of awareness" for you both. It's an issue you must raise and one where a conversation about the very real risks of abusing prescription drugs needs to occur.

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines, when intentionally abused, can be every bit as dangerous as illegal street drugs. This is not a safer alternative.

Also, take some time to listen to your child, hear what he or she is saying and learn more about all the influences in his or her life. To find out exactly what a specific pill is, contact the neighborhood pharmacist or physician.

We have more information about communicating the risks of medicine abuse on our Web site.

Are Physicians Part of the Problem?

Question: "How do we stop physicians from giving narcotic prescription the first time they meet someone?"

Sharon from Richboro, Pa.

Pasierb: Millions of physicians are absolutely professional and responsible practitioners. That does not mean there are not exceptions. Education and honest communication between patient and doctor is crucial. Physicians should be informed about all medications that a patient has been prescribed and any over-the-counter products a person may be using.

The medical community has an ongoing responsibility to help educate patients that medications should not be mixed and can be potentially deadly if consumed in large quantities or in combination with other RX drugs.

What Can the FDA Do to Shut Down Illegal Web Sites Selling Prescription Drugs?

Question: "I did not realize how easy it is to purchase prescription drugs online. My sister, an adult, has been purchasing and abusing. The online companies even call my parents' home looking for her to refill the prescriptions. I do not understand why these online pharmacies are not regulated in any way. It makes it very easy for people to abuse and become addicts. I would like to know if anything is being done through legislation to require that real prescriptions be needed to purchase prescriptions through these sites, and why the online doctors are allowed to dispense without actually seeing a patient. Thank you."

Barbara from Farmingdale, N.J.

Pasierb: Parents need to understand the Internet is playing a significant role in this problem: Web sites not only offer opportunities to purchase prescription medicines without a legitimate prescription, they also provide a significant amount of information. So Web sites and blogs are actually promoting the abuse of medicine. Kids and teens are exposed to these sites every day.

Online pharmacies, especially those overseas, are very difficult to regulate because they can participate in both legal and illegal activities. This is a question of more of law enforcement than prevention. The Drug Enforcement Administration is currently conducting thorough investigations and working extensively to curb these online pharmacies' illegal activities.

We as a nation, and especially our leaders in Congress, need to pay much more attention to this concerning problem.

Can I Block These Web Sites?

Question: "Where are these prescription drugs coming from? Where are the Web sites? Are they out of the country where it is legal or something? What can I do to block these Web sites if anything from my 5 children? Are the drugs the actual drugs or something else? Keep up the good but difficult work. You are appreciated."

Jill from Waterford, Mich.

Pasierb: Unfortunately, searches can generate literally thousands of Web sites offering to sell or promote the idea of abusing medicines. The only way to block these Web sites is to add parental filters to your computer. However, what will be more effective in protecting your five children is open and honest conversations about the very real risks of prescription drug abuse. They need to hear this from you.

Also, some advocates have suggested that computers in the home with Internet access belong in the kitchen or family room, places that out in the open, where parents can keep closer tabs on their children and their browsing activity.

There are three additional and very important points!

Educate yourself about medications that today's teens are abusing.

Communicate with your kids on the subject, and dispel the notion that medicines can be safely abused.

Safeguard your medications by learning which can be abused, then limit access to them and keep track of quantities — and make sure your friends do the same.

As I said on "World News," you may have prescription medicines in your home that belong under your constant control, perhaps in the family safe or lockbox, but certainly not next to the toothpaste. Protect your kids.

We have more information for parents here.

How Do I Distinguish Between Proper Use and Abuse?

Question: "My 15-year-old granddaughter is taking dilaudid, norco and ativan … all of them prescribed by her doctor to deal with pain after being in a car accident. She has been on all three of these drugs for 18 days now; and my son (her father) insists this is NOT a problem. I, on the other hand, believe this is a serious problem. I welcome your advice on this."

William from Santa Barbara, Calif.

Pasierb: Short-term use under a doctor's supervision is not abuse. However, using a prescribed medication in any way other than its intended purpose, as prescribed specifically for you by a doctor, constitutes misuse.

Many teens go further and intentionally abuse these products to get high or deal with the stresses and pressures in their lives. Through our extensive research, teens themselves have told us that they have abused prescription painkillers and cough and cold products containing the active ingredient dextromethorphan, or DXM. Seeking out intentional highs from any medication constitutes abuse.

Could I Be Abusing a Drug?

Question: "how do i stop using lortab? i've been taking it fot 20 years now, and every time i try to stop, i get really sick. i don't take more than prescribed, so i don't thimk i'm hooked."

Jerry from Owensboro, Ky.

Pasierb: Since this is a medication you have been taking for many years, you should consult your doctor before you stop taking it.

Although you probably want the substance use to stop as soon as possible, immediate abstinence has certain risks, including withdrawal symptoms with serious medical consequences. Many people need to be admitted to a detoxification center to help them physically withdraw.

Even if detoxification is not necessary, a formal, structured treatment program is often vital for sustained abstinence. A health care professional or substance use counselor can help you assess your options.

You can learn more about treatment at the partnership's Web site.