Twelve Talks to

Have With Teens

Prescription Drugs

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.

  • Help prevent misuse of prescription drugs or over the counter medication, particularly cough syrups, by making sure you do 3 things:

  1. Monitor

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

    • Reviewing and controlling your teen's prescriptions. Understand the difference between opioid and non-opioid medications, as well as potential side effects. Should you trust your teen to monitor their prescription intake when a common side-effect is drowsiness and cognitive impairment?

    • 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.

  2. Lock
    • Locking medicines 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. 

    • Talking with friends and family about their safe storage practices. The majority of misuse includes obtaining drugs from a friend or relative’s medicine cabinet.

  3. Dispose

    • Disposing of medications immediately and safely. Here is a map of where to drop them off. Plus, Disposerx also offers at-home medication disposal (demo video here). 

  • Compared to their peers around the world, teens in the United States are much more likely to be prescribed opioids after wisdom tooth extraction.


  • Many American teens leave their dentist’s office with a prescription for hydrocodone, commonly known as Vicodin. 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.

  • 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)

How to start a conversation

  • Ask direct, but open-ended questions, such as:

    • What would make someone take other people's prescriptions? 

    • Why do you think people "share" their study drugs?

    • Why do you think so many people are experiencing pain killer addiction?


  • 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.

  • Whenever your teen gets a prescription of any sort, including ADHD medication, say directly that they need to keep the medications in a secure place and shouldn't should share it with anyone else.

  • 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.

Quick tips

  • 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.

  • Local data shows that those teens whose parents make them let parents know where they are and who they are with when you aren't home are much less likely to use prescription medications not prescribed to them. 

  • Tell your teen very directly (and even if it feels uncomfortable) that combining sex —of any type — with alcohol or other drugs is not acceptable. They should not have sex with someone who has been drinking or taking drugs, and they need to stop others from hooking up with someone who is intoxicated. No one can give consent if they have taken, or may have taken, any type of alcohol or drugs.

Things to do

  • Keep alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and firearms in a locked cabinet or in locked room in your home. 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 teens friends, younger children, visitors to your home and pets from accessing them. Take Meds Seriously offers ideas for safe storage solutions in the home.


  • Discuss with your teen's dentist/doctor whether opioids are the appropriate treatment for your teen's pain. Ask about non-opioid alternatives, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. If opioids are determined to be appropriate, ask for a lower dosage and/or shorter prescription. Don’t be afraid to be an advocate and ask questions! In fact:

  • Opioids are a common go-to treatment, especially after wisdom tooth removal, but they aren’t the only option.

  • 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 your teen is given a prescription, ask the pharmacist if the drug is addictive or commonly misused. If so, teens should not be given an entire bottle — give them a single dose or only a days’ worth at a time.


  • Immediately get rid of any prescription drugs that are unused. Find out where to take them at


  • If you have any type of opioid medication in your home, you should keep naloxone in your medicine cabinet. 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.


  • Go over what to do if your teen is ever in a situation with a person is overdosing on prescription painkillers, heroine cocaine or, most commonly, alcohol. Make sure they know that, by law, they will not get in legal trouble for calling 911 and then waiting for help to arrive. They COULD get in legal trouble if they ignore the situation or run away.



Recommended Resource

Navigating Substance Experimentation in Teens Free Parent Workshop

  This free, temporarily online, workshop provides strategies, information and resources for parents or guardians whose teen has been caught using vape, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or taking someone else's prescription medication. The workshop is led by professionals in teen substance use prevention and takes place at Jefferson County Public Health in Lakewood on the 1st Wednesday of each month from 6-8 PM. The class is free.

Register here.

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* Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2019, Jefferson County data; **Jefferson County CTC Youth Town Hall data 2019 & 2020.


This project was created by the Jefferson County Communities That Care coalition and is housed within Jefferson County Public HealthThis resource was developed with funding from a Communities That Care grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, a grant from Community First Foundation and a Drug-Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the grant providers.