Prescription drug abuse rates vary among schools and communities. However, according to a 2013 study by The Partnership at Drugfree.org, one in four teens – 24 percent – admits to misusing or abusing a prescription drug at least once. That’s a 33 percent increase in the past five years.
And among teens who report abusing prescription drugs, about one in five started before the age of 14.
Addiction is a major problem, too. One in five teens admitted to drug treatment centers sought treatment for prescription drug abuse.
What signs might suggest a student is misusing or abusing a prescription drug?
Naturally, much will depend on the student, and which prescription drug may be involved. But a student who has a problem with a prescription drug may show:
- Abnormal drowsiness in class.
- Unusual agitation or restlessness in class.
- Sudden trouble concentrating or focusing.
- An abrupt change in personality or manner.
- A drop in academic and/or athletic performance.
- Increased absences.
However, note that these changes could have a number of other causes, too.
What if I see a student taking pills in class, or in school?
This depends entirely in your school’s medication management plan (MMP).
Your school may allow students to self-administer prescription medication at school, with the proper permissions and notifications. Or it may require prescription medications to be dispensed by your school nurse or other school professional.
You should familiarize yourself with your school’s policies regarding prescription medications to know how to respond to this situation.
How can I tell if a student is under the influence of a prescription drug in class?
It may not be possible to tell if the student is under the influence of a prescription drug, an illegal “street” drug, or if he or she has a medical problem.
Some possible signs and symptoms include:
- Rapid breathing, high body temperature, unusual sweating.
- Abnormal pupils: either very dilated or very constricted.
- Slurred speech or drowsiness.
- Agitation, irritability.
When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If your school has a comprehensive diversion-prevention program (CDPP), follow the policies and procedures described in the program. You may need to alert the school nurse or call emergency services.
What if I see students sharing, or passing along pills in school?
Sharing prescription drugs is always a serious offense, regardless of your school’s MMP.
Giving a prescription drug to someone for whom it was not prescribed is illegal. So is taking or possessing a controlled substance without a legitimate prescription.
Follow your school’s disciplinary policy on prescription drugs.
Am I allowed to ask students about health issues or their prescription medications?
If your school allows students to carry prescription medications in school – and if the policy requires the student carry the medication in a properly labeled prescription container and carry a proof of authorization – you can request to see these items.
Due to privacy laws involving health matters, especially those of minors, asking a student about their health issues or prescription medications may be problematic.
Refer to your school’s policies and procedures.