Teenagers and the Dangers of Prescription Drugs

Harrison was the boy next door. He was the boy who took your daughter to the prom, the helpful kid who waited on you at the local store. His life came to a tragic end in 2006. Something powerful overtook my son—something that could be lurking in your house.

Harrison was 17 when he died of a prescription drug overdose. He had the day off from school to celebrate Thanksgiving, so it was perfectly natural for him to sleep in. But he wasn't sleeping—his mother found him in bed, dead. Harrison had somehow gotten hold of pain pills—prescription drugs—and he took them to get high. When he mixed those with the common cold medicine he was taking, it killed him. We believe that he simply did not understand how dangerous it was.

The afternoon before he died, we had a great time in the woods together. There was a beautiful evening sky, the owls hooting and coyotes howling. It was almost magical.

Harrison's death has been painful beyond belief. I have grown closer to my family. We share the normal family bonds, but we also share the unfortunate tragedy of his death, the memories of his wonderful life cut too short. My wife, children and I continue to work through the guilt, depression and anxiety, and will for a long time.

It has been difficult in countless ways—no one can imagine the heartache and grief caused by losing Harrison this way. Not a day goes by that I don't think about prescription drug abuse, wondering if there was more that we could have done for Harrison, a way we could have prevented this from entering our home.

I spend more time at home now, letting others take a more active role at my business. I want to be closer to my family and to everyone I love. I have committed myself to helping parents recognize and take important steps to prevent prescription drug abuse in their homes.

The reality is that parents are simply not informed about prescription drug abuse. The statistics are unbelievable. A recent survey by Abbott and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that one in five teens abuses prescription drugs—that's 20 percent of our teenagers. Every day, 2,500 teens try prescription drugs for the very first time. Everyone knows the benefits of their medications when used as prescribed; few of us understand the dangers when these same medications are abused.

To bring some kind of sense to our tragedy, I tell parents to get informed, to look for the warning signs. And even if you don't see or suspect anything, talk to your teens and secure your medications. This is about "us," the average Americans, not about "them." It is not "their" kids, it is "our" kids, good kids who may understand about "bad" drugs but have no clue of the dangers when it comes to prescription medications that they often see in their parents' own medicine cabinets. Even my 21-year-old daughter has committed herself to the cause and frequently speaks to young people about prescription drug abuse.

In my work with Abbott and the partnership, we've developed a website called www.notinmyhouse.com that teaches parents how to talk to their teens about prescription drug abuse. Just as important, it gives parents easy steps that can help save their children: monitor, secure and dispose. Know what prescriptions you have in your house—know how many pills are in each bottle. For those medications that may be abused, such as stimulants, depressants and pain pills, lock them up. Don't leave them easily accessible. And when you are finished with your medicine—get rid of it. Don't let your pills end up in the wrong hands, the schoolyard or your community. Parents need to take the blinders off, stop thinking that this is a problem that affects other kids, and take action immediately.

My son Harrison and I shared a very special bond. We were companions and best friends. I never could have imagined that prescription drug abuse would become a focal point in my life. My participation in Not in My House is a tribute to my son. I believe in honoring the dead by living—living a life of service, and with love and compassion. I know Harrison would be proud of the work my family and I are doing on speaking out on this important issue. Harrison believed in service to community, and this is something he would have done. By speaking of his life, his battle with drugs, his death, I am closer to him.