Prescription drug abuse prevention starts at home

The majority of prescription drugs diverted for illicit use come from residential medicine cabinets. How can you safety-proof your home? Simple steps here.

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How can we stop the Rx drug problem?

Prescription drug abuse continues to escalate in our country and Americans are searching for ways to prevent or stop it. In fact, parents are losing their children at alarming rates due to accidental overdoses. According to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the majority of prescription drugs diverted for illicit use and abuse come from residential medicine cabinets .

Q: So, what can parents do to prevent prescription drug abuse?
A: The first step Americans should take to prevent the illegal diversion of pharmaceutical drugs is to properly dispose of their unwanted or unused prescription drugs.

Continue reading to learn more. If you have any questions, please post them in the section at the end of the page. We’ll try to respond to all questions, comments, or feedback personally and promptly.

Who may be stealing from you?

Everyone who possesses pharmaceutical drugs could be subject to theft by family members, acquaintances and strangers. As a former DEA agent, I have witnessed a variety of thefts of pharmaceuticals by unsuspected persons.

For example, realtors should be aware of a scam where people pose as potential buyers of a home only to have an opportunity to raid the residence to steal prescription pills from the home.

Another shocking story which aired on television showed a paramedic stealing an elderly patient’s medications after she called for assistance to be taken to the hospital by an ambulance. The home security system showed the paramedic re-enter the home after the patient was placed in the ambulance, only to steal her pain meds.
Ultimately, no one is immune to the desperation of someone who is addicted to prescription medications.

Are your kids experimenting with your medicine?

Most parents believe their children were raised properly and they don’t believe their children would ever abuse prescription medications. However, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, every day 2,500 youth, ages 12 to 17 abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. They begin abusing prescription drugs because the drugs are readily available at home.

A new study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that 7 out of 10 teen non-medical users of prescription pain killers combine them with other drugs or alcohol. This puts them at a higher risk for overdose.

We cannot assume that our children are not susceptible to temptation to try medication, often under the impression that since they were prescribed by a doctor, they must be safe. It can be a deadly mistake.

Parents at the front line

Programs nationwide have been implemented to encourage Americans to properly dispose of medications that can otherwise pose a serious safety hazard, particularly for curious children. So, what can parents do? What actions can you take NOW to safety-proof your home?
Here are some easy suggestions:

  1. Parents should monitor and keep track of their prescribed medications on-hand. This monitoring ideally includes knowing how many pills are in the bottle so unauthorized use can be detected and proper treatment can be administered in the event of overdose.
  2. In order to prevent theft or abuse, parents should secure pharmaceuticals in a locked cabinet.
  3. Parents can properly dispose of unwanted medications at scheduled “take-back” events held throughout the year by participating law enforcement agencies, or anytime at pharmacies or other DEA approved take-back locations with collection receptacles.
  4. Be open with your kids. Parents need to talk openly to their children about the dangers of drug experimentation and abuse, including the abuse of pharmaceuticals. Yes, it is okay to talk about it and you should be discussing it regularly.
  5. Monitoring internet activity can prevent illegal sale of drugs. Additionally, in today’s digital world, parents should monitor their children’s internet activity both on their phone and on the home computer or laptop. Remember, there are countless criminal on-line resources where all you need is a credit card to order non-FDA approved knock-off prescription or synthetic drug.
  6. Be vigilant during trips to visit older relatives. Visits to the grandparents also require hyper vigilant awareness. There is a high incidence of theft of prescription drugs among the elderly. This occurs more often than one would think. The elderly may become easy targets for theft due to sickness or dementia, especially by caretakers and family. As a precaution, I advise prescribing physicians to do pill counts on their elderly patients to combat this type of diversion.


  • Talk to your children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
  • Lock up your prescriptions the same way you would secure other valuables.
  • Keep in mind that even over-the-counter drugs like cough syrup are subject to abuse.
  • Keep track of your medications and advise or assist elderly relatives to do the same.
  • Lastly, dispose of your unwanted prescriptions by returning them to participating pharmacies or law enforcement agencies with drop boxes.
  • There are several nationwide law enforcement sponsored take-back events held throughout the year.

Prescription drug abuse prevention questions

If you like to learn more about how to prevent the diversion of pharmaceuticals or would like to receive training from retired DEA Special Agent and drug diversion expert W. Rivera, please visit the website or

Do you have any remaining questions about measures you can take to prevent your child from abusing prescription meds? Feel free to post them in the designated section below. We appreciate your feedback and try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.

About the author
Warren Rivera is a retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Rivera is an experienced public speaker, trainer and an expert in the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Mr. Rivera currently owns Training Idea, LLC, a private consulting firm that provides training on DEA matters to the healthcare industry, law enforcement and the community.
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