From prescription drug abuse to “skittles parties” and medication missteps, the growing need for education about proper prescription drug use is here to stay.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs trail only marijuana and alcohol as the most frequently abused substances by people 14 and older. Teens and pre-teens nationwide are seeing more pills pop up, too, as the number of medications prescribed increases.
As the opportunities to misuse medicine grow, an education in the dangers of taking too many pills, not the right kind of pills, someone else’s pills, and counterfeit medication found online has become an important part of growing up healthy.
Programs like the University of Minnesota’s branch of AWARxE are providing just that kind of information to Minnesota’s preteens. In a young-adult to middle school student information share that takes place all school-year-long, U of M College of Pharmacy students volunteer their time to visit individual classrooms statewide and raise awareness of prescription drug abuse among youth.
As they travel, they provide information to students on how to prevent prescription drug misuse. U of M College of Pharmacy students have participated in the program since it’s founding in 2009 by the Minnesota Pharmacists Foundation.
Around 20 College of Pharmacy students from both Duluth and Minneapolis university campuses delivered 100 presentations reaching over 2,500 middle-schoolers in the 2010-2011 school year. The program’s Minnesota reach is expected to grow this school year.
“Middle-schoolers ask a lot of great questions,” said Emily Smith, U of M College of Pharmacy AWARxE program co-coordinator and classroom volunteer. “They’re old enough to understand the issues and old enough to have been asked about or offered prescription drugs themselves. We’re reaching them as they’re starting to be exposed and before they get to high school.”
Smith doesn’t doubt the videos, expert Q&A, information on safe disposal of unneeded medicine and examples of incorrect vs. correct drug use are beneficial to students.
“Kids don’t always know that mixing pills or taking the wrong pills can kill you. It’s important to expose them to the potential consequences,” said Smith. “Even if AWARxE just prevents a few kids from making a harmful decision, it’s worth it. We want them to hear more than ‘This will get you high, make you feel better, if you try it.’”
Pharmacy students’ ability to relate to their audience also helps bring appropriate prescription drug messaging home. Celebrity examples like Bruce Lee and Elvis Presley help kids learn about potential dangers of using medicines the wrong way.
Middle school students aren’t the only ones who learn from the lessons either. Breaking down complex information to this preteen audience is good practice for future career pharmacists who will be asked to do the same for patients.
The use of jokes to help lighten mood, and the creation of an environment comfortable enough for preteens to ask questions like “what about cough drops?” and “what if my doctor gives it to me?” help both pharmacy and middle school students learn.
AWARxE is a win-win educational outreach.