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The United States of America only contains 5% of the world’s population, however, the country is full of prescription medication and devours 80% of the worlds prescription opioids. Of the people in the US over the age of 12 approximately 54 million people have used prescription drugs for non-legitimate medical reasons. (Richards, 2018). While many of these drug users do not realize the extent of the harm these prescription drugs can cause to their body, many teens that are recreationally using these pills even believe they are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor. “In 2014 more than 1700 emerging adults died from a prescription drug overdose. This is an increase of four times since 1999.” It is crucial that teens across the US are educated about prescription and street drugs and are taught the traumatic effects they both can have on your body. This paper recommends a national education program or “Anti-drug campaign”, that would take place starting in middle school and would continuously be reinforced throughout high school, targeting adolescents and the formal operational stage. Through this program, parents will also go through training to understand the signs of teen drug addiction, how to safely store and dispose of prescription medication, and learn how to communicate to their teenage child about the difficult topic of drug abuse.
About 18% of twelfth graders in 2016 had abused prescription drugs, according to a statistic from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA for Teens). Most teens will obtain their prescription drugs from friends and family, and often without them knowing. (NIDA for Teens, 2017). While children are in adolescence, they are transitioning from being a child into becoming an adult, and it can often be a very confusing time in their lives. During this stage of development, these teens are trying to discover who they are and often engage in risky adult behavior. With the pressure to act like an adult, many teens begin to experiment with alcohol, sex, and drugs. While these topics may seem taboo to educators and parents, it is necessary to inform the adolescents of the risk factors of the behavior they are engaging in. The risky behavior focused on in this paper is, prescription drug misuse, which is “defined as a nonmedical use of prescription drugs either with or without a prescription.” Currently, in schools in the US, education on drugs and their effects are very minimal and is often focused on alcohol, marijuana, and street drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.). These teens aren’t hearing how harmful they can be, just that that could get a good “high” from the pills in their grandma’s medicine cabinet. Adolescence or around 12-13 years old is the earliest age the topic of prescription drug misuse should be addressed to children. This age group of children has most likely entered the formal operational stage and is capable of abstract thought. They can now understand that prescription drugs may help some people who suffer from chronic pain or are recovering from an injury, they can offer sensations that some people without a medical need may enjoy, however they can also be very dangerous and can be harmful when misused and abused.
If this educational program was introduced when a child is still going through the concrete operational stage (7-11 years old), the child may not be able to understand that these prescription drugs are able to help people who have a medical need for them, but may hurt their older brother who is taking pills from their elderly grandmother who had knee surgery. In order to prevent adolescents from misusing and abusing prescription drugs, they need their education to start at home long before the national education program is enacted in the Junior High and High schools in the United States. While these children are growing up, it is important they are not exposed to family members abusing their own medication. Parents need to address why drugs are bad and how to say no when they are offered them. Even though their child might now be able to understand why drugs are bad, it is important to try to explain to the child the effects they can leave on your body and how they should always ask for help when handling medications. When these children enter junior high, the education program will begin by addressing all kinds of drugs and how they are all equally dangerous no matter what they have heard in the past. Many of these young adolescents may already have prior “knowledge” they heard from an older sibling or parent.
At the beginning of the education program, asking the children what they have previously heard about drugs is important to be able to debunk myths about drugs. One myth many teens believe is that prescription drugs produce a “medically safe high,” as written in a report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). While in some areas where the Anti-drug campaign is enacted, the children may have never heard of or seen drugs, many of the other adolescent youth may already be curious about trying these drugs. 12-13-year-olds are most likely to abuse prescription drugs over other illicit drugs and 12-17-year-olds make up one-third of all new prescription drug abusers in 2005. (ONDCP, 2007) During this time when the children are beginning their education of drugs and abuse, the parents will learn as well. Ideally, parents would attend short seminars similar to the ones the children are required to sit in, however, that is not realistic for many families busy schedules and for working parents. Parents will, however, be sent emails and newsletters including the information that the young adolescents will be learning in school. This will give time for parents to educate themselves, other family members and children in the house on the topics that will be addressed. Included for the parents will also be sample questions their child is likely to ask them about the material, suggestions on how to answer and even discussion starters for the family. Hopefully by introducing this commonly taboo topic into the home while the child is still young, will provide a space where the child can come to the parent to ask them further questions they might have as they begin to experience drugs or being peer pressured to try them. As some teens begin to struggle with anxiety, difficulty sleeping and even to help them concentrate, they turned to misusing prescription medication instead of asking their parents to schedule a doctors appointment to be prescribed their own.
This anti-drug educational program will adopt a program called Staying Connected with Your Teen, “a family-centered intervention that was offered to parents and their eighth-grade child to reduce family stressors by improving family management.” The intention of this program is to maintain communication between the teens and parents and to maintain “consistent and fair positive and negative consequences. By maintaining a strong bond in the family, the program hoped to eliminate the drop-off of communication in the household after the teen enters high school. Families that become part of the program will meet once a week for 7 consecutive weeks, in order to cover one chapter of the book each meeting. Each chapter will include important keys to maintaining the relationship between the teen and parent open.
As the teens enter high school, it is important to rediscuss some of the earlier topics mentioned in the program so the children are able to be reminded of what they have previously learned. While it is important to tell the teens not to do drugs, it is ultimately inevitable that they will experience a form of drugs in their lifetime. Rather than giving the teens an ultimatum that drugs are bad, the program will explain the effects they have on the brain, how some drugs alter brain chemistry and inhibit growth in brains that aren’t fully matured, and the addictive properties of prescription drugs. High school is an appropriate time for the Anti-drug campaign to incorporate guest speakers into the program. These gust speakers would be able to share first-hand experiences with drugs, share a family’s point of view of an addict, and even bring in a doctor to show brain scans of altered brain activity from drugs. While this program is only able to help the children and adolescents who have yet to become addicted to prescription medications and illicit drugs, there isn’t much attention being given to the young population of addicts in the US.
Adolescents should be able to seek treatment for their addiction from their pediatrician to go through medically-assisted treatment (MAT), instead of seak care from a rehad facility that mainly treats adults. Almost 9 in 10 teens and young adults suffer from addiction in the US and will never receive treatment for it. When these addictions are treated and these teens are able to receive care early, they are able to be saved from a life of opioid addiction and the harmful side effects that come along with prescription dependencies.
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