I have two kids, and like most parents can admit, I knew a lot more about being a parent BEFORE I was a parent. Before I was a parent, I remember seeing people with kids at restaurants or at the mall, having total meltdowns, and I'd say to myself, “my kids are never going to act like that."
Now that I am a parent, I say things like, “get your foot out of your sister’s mouth.” On the daily I find myself saying things to my kids that I never thought I would have to articulate to another human being.
There's a statement that everyone who isn’t a parent thinks they understand, but they don’t (and no amount of discussing it can explain it). On the other hand, everyone who is a parent understands it so well that I don’t need to discuss it at all for it to be completely understood. And that statement is this:
Parenting is harder than you think.
There are so many unexpected elements, so much we can’t control. And while we may have some big dreams for our kids, what we really want is for them to live safe, happy lives.
As someone who works in the field of substance abuse prevention, I can tell you that this is an element of parenting that feels so much harder than we thought
it would be. There are so many dangers out there. How do we protect our kids? How do we parent them in such a way that they make wise choices when they are older when it comes to drugs and alcohol? What can we do NOW so that they have a lower risk of abusing substances LATER? Often, we feel clueless about how to protect our kids from drugs and alcohol, and there's only so much we can do. But, the reality is that we CAN help prevent drug abuse from turning our families upside down, and we can start by addressing what's in our own homes: medicine.
Here are four key strategies that you can implement now that will pay dividends long-term when it comes to protecting your kids from abusing medications, particularly opioids:
1. Monitor the pills in your household. Start by taking note of how many pills are in each of your prescription bottles or pill packets, and keep track of the refills. If you find you need to refill prescriptions more often than expected, that could indicate a problem. If you have a teenager with a prescription, make sure that you are the one in control of that medication. Also, make sure that other adults who frequently visit you (i.e. grandparents) and people your son or daughter frequently visits (i.e. their friends’ parents) are also monitoring their prescriptions and aware of the risks.
2. Secure any prescription medication in your home or on your body. Keep it in a safe place, locked if possible, but at least out of reach of your child and his or her friends. Spread the word to any household your child has access to, and encourage other parents to secure their prescriptions as well.
3. Dispose of unused medications safely. There are many ways to safely and anonymously dispose of expired or unused medications. There are two permanent medication return boxes in Stephenville—Stephenville Police Department and Tanglewood Pharmacy. There is now a permanent return box at the Dublin Police Department as well. Click on this link to find a permanent drop box location near you. STAR Council's community coalition, EC3, also provides medication deactivation pouches. By following the simple instructions on the pouch, you can neutralize your unused or expired meds in minutes, eliminating the risk of them falling into the wrong hands and contaminating our water systems by flushing them down the toilet. Call us for more information.
4. Call for help in an emergency. If you believe your child did ingest opioids (or any medication), and if he/she is unconscious, having a seizure, appears to not be breathing or having trouble breathing, is unusually confused, or seems overly sleepy, call 911 immediately. If your child is awake and alert but showing symptoms, you can also call the American Association of Poison Control Centers help line at 1-800-222-1222. Even if you aren’t sure if your child actually ingested any medication or supplements, it is still a good idea to call poison control if you are concerned.
So, what’s the easiest way to remember how to do all of this? It’s pretty simple if you can remember that you want to be a superhero for your kids. And what was it Superman always used to say?
“Up and Away.”
That’s what you will want to do with your medications as well—keep them up and away. You can monitor more easily because you’ve limited access; your medications are more secure, out of reach and out of sight; when you are done using them, make sure they are no longer up and away, but disposed of properly; and while these techniques will greatly reduce the risk of accidental ingestion, no method is fool proof. Be prepared to make the right call should an emergency arise. This works when every adult in your household follows the same expectations, and it makes you a real superhero.
You may need to change where you store your medications. It may be difficult to change habits that you’ve had for a while. It may be uncomfortable to have conversations with grandparents when they bring their medications into your home, or when you bring your kids to theirs. But if it means that your kids get to grow up safe from accidental opioid use/misuse, and if it means you reduce the risk of future opioid abuse, it’s worth it. It’s a small investment now that can reward BIG down the line. Just imagine the life-changing effect that you can achieve by simply keeping prescription medication up and away.