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Teens sitting together.

Twelve Talks to
Have With Teens

Medicine Misuse

Youth from Jefferson County report that sharing prescriptions happens, but is less common than other forms of substance misuse. Adults can protect teens by restricting teen access to both the teen’s own medications and others’ medications — and then safely disposing of unneeded medication.


  • In Jefferson County high schools, 1 in 8 seniors and juniors report having used a prescription drug not prescribed to them.


  • Don't assume your teen isn't at risk. Jefferson County youth report that drug use is common across social groups, including AP/IB students, athletes, student government participants and others. 

  •  Youth in Jefferson County report that "sharing" the following is common: 

    • "Study drugs" including Ritalin®, Adderall®, Concerta®, and Focalin.®

    • Anti-anxiety drugs including Xanax® and Klonopin® 

    • Prescribed opioid pain relievers, such as Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin, which are often prescribed to teens after tooth extractions or an injury.

What would you do if a friend wanted to try some of your prescription meds


  • Many American teens leave their dentist’s or oral surgeon's office with a prescription for an opioid called hydrocodone, commonly known as Vicodin, or other opioid. Almost all of this drug’s supply worldwide — 99% — is prescribed and used in the U.S. In other countries such as England, Germany, Japan, and China, opioids are rarely prescribed after wisdom tooth surgery. The first line of treatment for dental pain should be over-the-counter painkillers, according to the American Dental Association. The organization recommends dentists prescribe a combination of ibuprofen (such as Advil) and acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol or Tylenol).

  • If you have any type of opioid medication in your home, you should keep naloxone in your home as well. Naloxone is can be obtained without a prescription from any pharmacy and is simple to use, as shown in this short video. The most common form of naloxone comes as a nasal spray unit known as Narcan. More information on naloxone can be found here.

  • Talking is the key, even though there is no perfect way to talk with your teen about alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, and other drugs. But being honest and involved has a big influence on your teen, even if it seems like they’re not listening. 

Learn how prescription drugs, like opioids, affect the brain. (4:37)

Conversation starters

  • Discuss drug overdoses, recognizing a drug overdose, and seeking help, including understanding Colorado’s "Good Samaritan" Law. The law states that if you call 911 in the event of a friend or loved one overdosing on drugs or alcohol, and you stay with the person experiencing overdose, you won't get in any trouble - even if you were drinking or taking drugs yourself. The law also protects the person experiencing an overdose.

  • Anytime your teen gets a prescription of any sort, have a conversation about prescription medications, including ADHD medication or medication for anxiety or depression. Be sure to say directly that they need to keep the medications in a secure place and that they shouldn't should share it with anyone else. Ask them what they will do if friends ask to have a few of their pills.

  • When you hear about the opioid crisis on TV or the radio, use that as an opening to ask your teen what they think is going on with young people using pain medications or other drugs.

Ask yourself

  • Are you assuming your teen isn't vulnerable? Talk with your teens about the risks of opioid addiction, framing it as a danger inherent to the drugs and not something specifically about your teen. Point out that this has become a large public health concern and is all over the media; many people from all walks of life have been blindsided by opioids and it’s simply something to be extra cautious about.

  • Are you taking steps to prevent misuse of prescription drugs or over the counter medication, particularly cough syrups?

    • Monitor

      • Know what and how much you have so you will notice if any is missing. Keeping all medicines in one place makes tracking easier.

      • Review and retain control over your teen's prescriptions. Understand the difference between opioid and non-opioid medications, as well as potential side effects. 

      • Consider not giving your younger teenager more than a few days’ worth of their own prescribed medication at one time. Even if they don't purposely sell them, friends might pilfer from their supply or pressure them into giving them a few-- or your own teen might get mixed up about timing dosage.

    • Lock

      • Lock medicines (as well as alcohol & firearms) in a cabinet, cupboard, room, lock box or safe to prevent access by children, pets, household visitors or anyone hired to work in your home. Many pharmacies sell a variety of lock boxes that adapt to your specific needs. 

      • Talk with friends and family about their safe storage practices. Misused medicine's are often taken from a friend or relative’s medicine cabinet.

    • Dispose

      • Don't store medications you aren't using. Since many medications aren't safe to put in the trash or down the drain, here is a map of where to drop them off.

Resources & Help

NSET Workshop Graphic.jpg


Rules & Boundaries

  • Limit the amount of medicine your teen has access to at a given time, then monitor their supply, rather than handing the entire bottle to them.​

  • Talk to your teen about their boundaries with friends and how they could refuse to "share" their medications. If they find it helpful, you might even invite them to blame YOU for being uptight about tracking their medicines.

  • If adults in your home use marijuana, make an agreement that they will never provide marijuana to those under 21. Also track the amount kept in the home and let your teens know you keep track of it. Even if your teen would never take these items without permission, locking them prevents your teen's friends, younger children, visitors to your home and pets from accessing them.

  • Keep alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and firearms in a locked cabinet or in locked room in your home. Also be sure to talk to anyone else staying in your home and/or adults in homes were your teen spends time (such as grandparents or co-parent's homes).


Equity & Inclusion

  • Youth and adults who become addicted to prescription pain killers or other medications benefit from professional treatment. Unfortunately, many groups face stigma around treatment and disparities in access to treatment. If you are struggling to find or afford treatment, patient navigators at Jefferson Center may be able to help.

  • Youth who are members of groups who currently face discrimination tend to be arrested more often, and face more severe penalties, for use and possession of marijuana.​​ Black and Hispanic Colorado adults and youth continue to face disparately high marijuana related legal charges and school suspension. *

Taking Action in your Community

Reduction of risk factors, and improvements in protective factors, can happen on multiple levels-- within an individual, among friends and family, by adjusting systems in places like schools or businesses, and on the policy level for towns, counties or states.  When improvements happen on all levels, our teens are most likely to thrive. Here are some policy and systems you and/or your teens might be able to influence:

  • Help raise awareness about safe disposal of prescription drugs by posting on social media about local Drug Take Back Days which take place in Jefferson County every April and October.


  • Ask your teen's pharmacist, doctors, dentists and/or surgeons questions about all your teen's prescriptions, including asking if they can be addictive or if what would happen if your teen "shared" them with others. Ask them about their recommendations for preventing these issues.


  • In Jeffco, the health education students receive (including information about substance misuse and effective skill development) varies by school

    • Ask your school how they are implementing health education for all students. Ask if the school knows about the district’s Health Education Policy and related resources. Ask/promote your teen to take a high school health education elective.


  • Having data in our county on youth medicine and drug use and related behaviors helps to bring in resources and support for youth.

    • Email the local Board of Education (see example letter here) to share your support for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and Healthy Schools Smart Source to get important information on youth needs in our community. 

    • Join your School Accountability Committee and ask about using non-academic data and information (e.g., health information, climate survey data, etc.) to guide school improvement efforts and plans.

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