Prescription Drug Safety for K-12 Schools

Prescription Drug Safety for K-12 Schools

Prescription Drug Safety for K-12 Schools

Prescription drug abuse has been a problem in the United States for years, but it doesn’t just impact adults. Teens have also been widely affected by the increased misuse of prescription medications, leading prescription drug abuse to be the fastest-growing drug problem in the country. 

Prescription Drug Abuse in Teens

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), 6% of Americans over the age of 12 abuse prescriptions every year. The NCDAS defines the term “abuse” as:

  • Taking medicine that was prescribed for someone else.
  • Taking more medicine than you are supposed to in one dose.
  • Taking medicine in a different way than you are supposed to, such as crushing up pills and snorting them. 
  • Using the medicine for non-medicinal purposes (i.e., getting high).

Prescription drug abuse is most common among 18-25 year-olds, but 4.9% of 12-17 year-olds also abuse prescriptions annually. The most common classes of misused prescriptions are stimulants, painkillers, sedatives, psychotropics, and opioids. The drug of choice among high school seniors is hydrocodone-acetaminophen (Vicodin), with an 8% reporting use, followed by amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) used by 6.5% of 12th graders.  

Teens misuse prescription medications for many different reasons, including to fit in/impress peers, stress relief, energy/focus boosts, and to self-medicate mental health conditions like social anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. One of the biggest reasons teens abuse prescription drugs is because they are widely accessible, and they can easily access them from their parent’s medicine cabinets. They also incorrectly believe them to be safer than illegal drugs

Warning Signs that a Teen is Abusing Prescription Drugs

  • Physical - bloodshot eyes, change in pupil size, poor hygiene, unusual smells on their breath, body, or clothes, change in sleeping and/or eating patterns, extreme weight loss or gain, lack of coordination, slurred, erratic and incoherent speech, frequent skin flushing, brittle hair and/or nails, shaking, seizures, frequent sickness, as many drugs weaken the immune system, frequent runny nose and/or nosebleeds (a potential sign of snorting drugs), unexplained bruises and marks (a potential sign of injecting drugs), burns on lips or fingers (a potential sign of smoking drugs), breathing problems (a potential sign of methamphetamine use), wearing long sleeves or pants in warm weather to hide drug-related injuries.
  • Social - avoidance of friends and family, change in friends, missing school and/or work, poor grades, stealing or frequently borrowing money, avoiding eye contact, getting into trouble with the law, use of drug-related slang, possession of drug paraphernalia.
  • Emotional - mood swings, irritability, depression, aggression, paranoia, defensiveness, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, lack of motivation, trouble concentrating, poor memory.


  • Education is key - it’s highly important to educate youth about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and train adults to detect warning signs of misuse.
  • Practice safe medication usage, storage, and disposal - always follow dosage instructions, store medication in a secure place that kids and teens cannot access, and safely dispose of extra medication
  • Encourage treatment - if someone has a problem with prescription drugs, encourage and assist them with treatment, without judgment.

Resources to Support Prescription Drug Safety Education

Vector Solutions offers courses about drug safety and substance abuse in the Vector Training Staff Safety and Compliance course library and the Student Safety and Wellness course library for grades 6-12. 

Staff courses include: 

  • Opioid Overdose Response Awareness 
  • Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse: Impact on Students 
  • Student Drug & Alcohol Abuse

Student courses include: 

  • Alcohol and Drug Use (6-8, 9-12) 
  • How Drugs and Vaping Affect your Brain (6-8, 9-12) 
  • Substance Use and Risk to your Future (6-8, 9-12) 
  • Social Pressure and Substance Use (6-8, 9-12)
  • Teen Alcohol and Drug Use (9-12)
  • What You Can do to Avoid Substance Use (6-8, 9-12) 

Want to learn more? Request a demo!

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