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Raiding The Medicine Cabinet

While teen-agers have long raided the family liquor cabinet, some are now stealing from the medicine cabinet and abusing prescription drugs.

Dr. Robert Millman, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, gave an overview to Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel.

He says, "There's been a marked increase in kids taking prescription drugs over the last, say, decade, more in the last two, three, four years." But he notes it's not a new phenomenon. "People have been doing it for 30 years."

Teens find ways to acquire such drugs - from friends or relatives with a prescription. "Physicians are prescribing large amounts of stimulants and painkillers."

Young people are ingesting a range of pills. One category is stimulants, such as Ritalin or Dexedrine. "Those are up drugs; they increase performance; they help you to study when you're very tired. The down side, you get irritable, anxious; and without them sometimes people have a hard time," Millman says.

"Xanax and Valium are tranquilizers that you use to sleep, downers to sleep, to relieve anxiety," Millman says. "The trouble with those is you decrease performance, and sometimes you don't know what's going on. You can overdose on them in combination with others."

"The third major class would be the painkillers like Percodan or Hycodan; those are used for pain but they also give you a sense of euphoria or high," he adds.

"Some of them are sophisticated and know exactly what they're taking and they don't get into trouble," Millman says of the kids mixing the drugs. "Other kids, often with psychological problems, are taking bewildering combinations, large amounts and they are much more subject to acute and chronic adverse effects," he adds.

The effects can be quite serious, he explains. "They're quite dangerous. Most people don't get into trouble with them, clearly, because a lot of kids are using them," he says.

"However, the more who use, the more who get into trouble. And the adverse effects include accidents, sexual indiscretions, say, violent episodes. But then more chronically, decreased performance, getting into trouble in school, sort of getting off the track."

Parents can watch for warning signs: changes in behavior, appearance or dress, unusual expenditures or unfamiliar pills in the house.

The parents should familiarize themselves with the drugs, Millman advises. "They should know how the drugs work. Learn about them; they should also know whether they've got a problem, whether they're taking too many of the pills, or alcohol. They should also be prepared to discuss with their kids in a reasonable, intelligent, nonjudgmental way what the kids are doing, what their friends are doing."

He advises parents to keep their pills out of the medicine cabinet and the bedside table.

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