Secret life of teens: The dangerous drug parents aren't talking about with kids

When teens want to get high, many don’t even have to leave home. All it takes is a visit to their parents’ medicine cabinet.

Prescription drug abuse — big problem among adults — is also spreading in schools. Kids are secretly reaching for painkillers, tranquilizers and stimulants prescribed for mom or dad, with many parents completely unaware.

Cyrus Stowe, a 17-year old in Dallas, Texas, decided to expose the problem at his high school and the resulting documentary, “Out of Reach,” is a startling look at students popping pills without restraint.

“It doesn't look harmful, there's no needle and they have no idea what they're taking in a lot of cases,” Cyrus told NBC special anchor Maria Shriver as part of TODAY’s series on the secret lives of teens.

“What we found out was, we'd go into the restroom and students right before a test would go into a stall, pop an Adderall, sometimes snort it, and trade more hard drugs like Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, and just take them as if it was vitamin C.”

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For some kids, the problem starts in middle school. Prescription medications are the most abused drugs among 12- and 13-year olds, the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found.

When taken in different amounts or for different purposes than prescribed, they can produce a high just like illegal drugs, and have some of the same harmful effects, including the potential for addiction and overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Experts say most parents never warn their children about the danger or set a bad example themselves.

“We see parents modeling the wrong behavior. They share pain medicines with their kids, they share antibiotics among the family. But when they're misused in any way, not only can they be dangerous, they can be deadly,” said Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

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Sherrie Rubin is hoping her son’s story will make teens aware of the consequences.

Aaron was a high school football star, but he was also an addict—secretly abusing painkillers to get high. Rubin and her husband had no idea until Aaron accidentally overdosed at a friend's house, leaving him with permanent brain damage. He can't talk or walk, and his parents must care for him around the clock.

“The challenges that he and our family have to live with every day are insurmountable,” said Rubin, who now travels to schools around the country to warn teens and their parents.

“We need to educate ourselves, so when your child is approached to take this, 'it's just like marijuana, but better,' they will have the proper knowledge to not take it… if one kid in the room listens and makes a good choice, they've saved their family a tragic heartache.”

Here are tips from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to prevent teens from abusing prescription drugs:

  • Talk to your kids about the risks of prescription drug abuse. Children who learn a lot about the risks of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use them.
  • Keep your prescription medicine in a secure place, and count and monitor the number of pills you have.
  • Set a good example for your kids and don't share medications or take a drug without having a prescription for it yourself.

For more help and resources, check these websites:

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

"Out of Reach" - Medicine Abuse Through the Eyes of a Teen

National Institute on Drug Abuse -- NIDA for Teens

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